Invisible

When I was a little girl, I thought cauliflower was simply broccoli without the color. In some ways, I was not too far off. The two are, after all, related and in the cruciferous family. But as far as texture and flavor is concerned, they are quite…

Invisible

When I was a little girl, I thought cauliflower was simply broccoli without the color. In some ways, I was not too far off. The two are, after all, related and in the cruciferous family. But as far as texture and flavor is concerned, they are quite different. Growing up, I always preferred the mild subtleties of this ghostly vegetable.

This may seem odd, but I feel badly for the white cauliflower whenever I see it in the market. Next to the broccoli, and particularly alongside its more flamboyant sibling, the purple cauliflower, the white variety seems to get lost…nearly invisible.

It is easy to overlook this humble vegetable, but cauliflower is an amazing source of vitamin C, as well as numerous nutrients. And it is currently in season! From December to March, cauliflower is at its peak, so now is a wonderful time to incorporate it into your menus.

For those who may not enjoy cauliflower, or perhaps have never tried it, sometimes it helps to call in the heavy cream patrol. Anyone suspicious of cauliflower will be transformed when they taste spoonfuls of cauliflower that have been touched by a creamy sauce of Gruyere and Parmegiano-Reggiano.

Cauliflower Fennel and Leek Gratin is not exactly a dish that highlights the health benefits of this lovely vegetable, but at this time of year, it is comforting and rich, and would surely grace your holiday table.

Cauliflower Fennel and Leek Gratin

Recipe adapted from:

Cauliflower Gratin with Roasted Chestnuts and Parmesan Cream, Martha Stewart
Cauliflower Gratin, by Ina Garten
and
Potato Fennel Gratin, by Ina Garten

Serves 4-6.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup fennel, shaved
  • ½ cup leeks, washed & thinly sliced
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, stems removed, divide into florets
  • 2 ½ cups heavy cream
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • ½ cup Gruyere cheese
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
  • additional Parmesan cheese, about ¼ cup

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a baking dish and set aside.

In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Saute fennel and leeks until tender, about 5 minutes. Add cauliflower and heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper and allow to simmer about 10 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender.

With a slotted spoon, remove cauliflower, fennel, and leeks and set aside. Add Parmesan and Gruyere cheeses to the cream, along with thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow cream to simmer for about 10 minutes, until it has reduced to a thick, creamy consistency. Remove thyme and dispose.

Return cauliflower to pan, stir to coat. Pour into a baking dish and top with panko breadcrumbs. Top with a little more Parmesan cheese.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Comments

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  1. angi

    Nathan and I used to be mostly ambivalent about cauliflower because we kept getting it in the CSA box and started running out of ideas of what to do with it. Then we discovered it’s really very good just simply pan-roasted. But! It seems we may now have a serious contender for an even better way to eat cauliflower. Liren, this gratin looks so decadent and lovely – perfect for warming our bellies this time of the year. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Liren

      I have long wanted to do a CSA – I never seem to get my act together in time. Would love to know which one you use!

      Reply
      • angi

        We have been using Two Small Farms (http://www.twosmallfarms.com/) for a few years now and love them. The only slight disadvantages are that they’re mainly a vegetable farm so you don’t really get fruit in the box (but they do grow strawberries and sometimes get apples from neighboring farms) and they take winters off (i.e. no boxes from Thanksgiving until March). Not sure if they go out to East Bay but you should check them out if they do!

    • Liren

      So very true – the frigid temps (by California standards at least) definitely make me crave gratins.

      Reply
  2. A Canadian Foodie

    I have been cooking with leeks this year almost daily. I love them. Immensely. Cauliflower is also a very common vegetable at our house. Raw and cooked. We love it. Now, fennel – that is a different matter. My husband doesn’t like it and we never cook with it. I love it and like to use it when going to girl friend parties and potlucks. This recipe looks so tasty. I know I would be in heaven. Thanks for the creative take on these veggies and for your thoughtful recipe!
    :)
    valerie

    Reply
    • Liren

      Fennel is a tricky thing in my house, too. But it is definitely tolerated, if not loved, in this gratin. My secret is to shave the fennel, or cut as thinly as possible, then really let it get nice and translucent before adding the other ingredients. The bold fennel flavor really mellows out. Maybe your husband might actually like it in this dish!

      Reply
    • Liren

      Thanks Debi! I know, kids say the funniest things, and apparently, I was no different :)

      Reply
    • Liren

      Mdivani, I thought of you when I posted this. I know you’re always on the hunt for good veg-friendly recipes :)

      Reply
  3. Monet

    I adore cauliflower…I think it has a much more subtle taste than broccoli (although I love those green florets too!) But I know that almost anyone would like this delicious looking gratin. All of that cheesy goodness is bound to please! I hope you have a wonderful end to your week. Thanks for brightening my day!

    Reply
    • Liren

      I am having a lovely end to my week, Monet, thanks! I hope you are, too. And yes, cheese makes everything better :)

      Reply
  4. Lindsey @ Gingerbread Bagels

    I LOVE cauliflower! When I was a kid, I would eat so much pickled cauliflower, all of my friends thought I was crazy while they ate goldfish crackers. haha. I’ve eaten cauliflower in so many ways but I’ve never had it in a gratin before. I’m definitely going to be trying this out sometime. It looks delicious. Such gorgeous photos too!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Ooh, I’ve never had pickled cauliflower, would love to try that!

      Reply
    • Liren

      Absolutely. I made it for a day-after-Thanksgiving party with friends, and realized how perfect if would be for my Christmas menu!

      Reply
  5. fooddreamer

    I am a cauliflower lover so no need to sell me with heavy cream. But then, I love cream too, so I guess I would love this dish two-fold!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Cream or not, I agree, cauliflower is a lovely veggie. Love it all kinds of ways!

      Reply
  6. Trish

    This is the perfect recipe to ease people that are suspicious of cauliflower & leeks into trying and liking them. It sounds so wonderful. It’s the perfect side dish for the holidays. Beautiful photos!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Oh, yes, I forget that some may be suspicious of leeks, too. I love the stuff, sometimes more than onions!

      Reply
  7. Joy

    OMG that looks so good. I personal love cooking with leeks but I only use it in pasta. What a great recipe.

    Reply
    • Liren

      Leeks in pasta is delicious, if you like it there, you’ll love it in a gratin. I also love leeks with seafood!

      Reply
  8. Becky

    I never thought of cauliflower in that “invisible light. I really don’t like it, but I’m sure that the gratin is delicious with all of that cheese:)

    Reply
  9. Priscilla - She's Cookin'

    I’m enjoying your provocative one-line post titles of late, Liren. And, anything au gratin = comfort food. Looks delicious and will convince many to give cauliflower a try I’m sure!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Priscilla, you’re so observant! I guess I’m on a roll with those titles, but it’s really happenstance! Funny.

      Reply
  10. Jean

    Liren, this is just the thing that would add warmth and comfort to these cold, rainy days. I was not a huge fan of cauliflower growing up but I love them now–and how can you go wrong adding leeks and cheese? I might even give fennel another try with this recipe. :-)

    Hope you’re having a great week. See you soon!

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Jean, these cold days are definitely making me crave these gooey cheesy dishes. Definitely try the fennel again – in small portions! Slice them ever so thinly and you will like it (I hope!).

      Reply
  11. Petes

    My boyfriend will love this. I have to add this to the list of things to make. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Liren

      You’re so welcome! Hope you and your boyfriend enjoy this!

      Reply
  12. Jackie

    I am a BIG cauliflower fan! I quite like it roasted, myself, but this recipe looks like a winner for my table! I can almost taste it… not quite, though, so guess I’ll have to make it ;)

    Jax x

    Reply
    • Liren

      Hi Jackie, ah roasted cauliflower is so good! Hope you try this, you’ll love it :)

      Reply
  13. Tes

    Ohhh This looks so lovely! It sounds so fresh and healthy. Cauliflower, fennel and leek sounds like a great combo :)

    Reply
    • Liren

      Thank you, Tes! Well, it’s not so healthy, but the intent is there :)

      Reply
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