Cauliflower Gratin or Cauliflower Cheese

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Cauliflower Gratin is a typical dish in Brittany, France, a place where the simple becomes luxurious – it’s called Gratin de Chou-fleur and we first learnt how to make this version from the late French chef Paul Bocuse in his book Regional French Cooking which is out of print now though you can find a second-hand copy on Amazon or Alibris. Make it in advance up to a day before and bake it at the last minute. It’s an everyday dish that is technically vegetarian, but that tastes so rich that you won’t believe that it doesn’t contain meat.


1 head of cauliflower

For the béchamel sauce:
25g butter
25g flour
500g milk
Grating of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
80g gruyère, freshly grated
50g Parmesan, freshly grated
2 tablespoons single cream or crème fraîche

For the topping:
3 tablespoons fresh breadcrumbs or panko


1. Remove the florets from the cauliflower and discard the stalk and base (unless using for soup).

2 Boil the cauliflower in salted water for 10 minutes. Drain well.

3. Make the béchamel sauce. Melt 25g of the butter in a non-stick saucepan. Add the flour and cook over a low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon so it doesn’t stick, until the mixture bubbles. Add the milk, little by little, making sure it is incorporated before adding the next lot. Keep stirring to avoid lumps. Keep going until you have a thick sauce, bringing the mixture to the boil for a minute if it is too thin. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and black pepper. Turn off the heat. Add half the Gruyere and Parmesan and the creme fraiche and stir.

4.Preheat the oven to 180C Fan – 200C – 400F – Gas 6.

5. Mix the gruyère and Parmesan with the breadcrumbs.

6. Build the gratin: place the drained cauliflower in a baking dish. Pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the cheesy breadcrumbs on top evenly. Bake for 10-25 minutes until the top is bubbling and golden.


– It’s tempting to lift the cauliflower out of its boiling water and drop it into the baking dish, waiting for the sauce to arrive but don’t do it! The cauliflower has to be drained or it will make the sauce watery and it will curdle when you lift it onto the plate.
– Use any hard cheese or a mixture of hard cheeses from Pecorino to Cheddar. It has to be the best way to use up the ends of cheeses that are in the fridge.
– To make the dish even richer and more traditional, add an egg yolk to the béchamel sauce when you are adding the cheese and stir well.
– To make a meat version add cooked finely chopped chorizo, streaky bacon, pancetta, ham or even cooked chicken (why not use the leftovers from a rotisserie chicken?) to the sauce and fold into the cauliflower.
– At a push you can use frozen cauliflower – boil it in salted water from frozen (see step 2 above.

– Cook broccoli florets exactly the same way you cook the cauliflower above and follow the recipe exactly.


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