I am a big fan of gratins or for that matter anything baked and covered in cheese, especially vegetables. And there is no other way I like cauliflower more than when it's baked. I don't particularly like it in soups or boiled or steamed. I like cauliflower encrusted with cheese and breadcrumbs. That's how I grew up eating it. Whenever we had a special Sunday dinner my mom would always make baked cauliflower slathered in sour cream and sprinkled with breadcrumbs. I loved it so much, I could almost eat the whole dish. Now I love to vary the way I bake cauliflower. But my favorite variation is gratinéed, which is much different from my mom's recipe, but it's unique and still very satisfying.
Instead of boiling or steaming the cauliflower before baking, like many recipes call for, here the cauliflower goes right into the oven. This way more vitamins and minerals remain in the vegetable instead of being released when boiling. Many times vegetable gratins can get watery, especially here since the cauliflower is not precooked. To counteract that, orzo is used in the bottom of the baking dish. While the cauliflower bakes, the orzo cooks in the liquid and absorbs all the flavors. With a serving each of starch and vegetable, this gratin makes for a great side dish to any main dish. But it also can be enjoyed simply on its own.
Cauliflower Gratin with Orzo
1/2 cup orzo
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, heated
fine sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 cup grated Gruyère
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Spread orzo in the bottom of a 2-quart baking dish. Add cauliflower florets, tucking them tightly together.
Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thick roux forms, about 2 minutes. Whisk in hot milk and cook, constantly whisking, until thickened, about 4 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and paprika.
Pour Béchamel over cauliflower and orzo. Sprinkle top with both cheeses and breadcrumbs. Melt remaining butter and drizzle over top. Bake until cauliflower is tender, about 1 hour. If darker color is desired, set under broiler for no more than 5 minutes to brown top. Yield: 6 servings.