I haven’t even begun this post and already I fear I have mislead you. I call this dish “mac ‘n cheese” even thought it has no pasta in it whatsoever. It more closely resembles a casserole or a gratin, but in my mind I liken it to macaroni and cheese because the piquant, cheesy sauce is the very same I use to bathe my noodles in before baking, as is the panko crust. Instead of noodles this recipe uses winter vegetables which are still cheap and plentiful in the market. I used half cauliflower and half Brussels sprouts because that’s what I had on hand, but I really feel that this would have been ten times better with just 100% cauliflower. As this casserole bakes, the cheese sauce and the cauliflower meld together, and the texture and flavor is sublime. The Brussels sprouts are a really great combination with the cheese, but their texture isn’t as nice. Next time I’d just rather pour the sauce over the sprouts, skip the oven all together, and serve them as a side dish that way, with maybe some paprika on top.
I do, however, think this would be pretty amazing with half cauliflower and half broccoli, so that’ s likely what I’ll be doing next time.
If you are disappointed this recipe doesn’t contain any pasta, take heart, you can always add some tiny cooked pastina or orzo to the mix, but let me try to convince you otherwise: firstly, this recipe, even with the roux sauce and all the cheddar, is healthier without the addition of pasta. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly for me, you will dirty less dishes because you don’t have to boil and drain the pasta. You can always take that route when preparing this dish, but I find that steaming the vegetables in the microwave does it faster and better in the sense that less water is used. Obviously this is good for water-conscious areas like mine, but also this keeps the nutrients from leeching into the water and it also prevents the sauce from becoming too watery. A thin, watery cheese sauce pooled at the bottom of your gratin is wholly unappetizing.
A quick note on ingredients:
- Panko is a flaky, Japanese-style breadcrumb that I use for everything. Baked chicken nuggets, real mac ‘n cheese, casseroles of shapes and sorts, everything. I even know a lady who added it to her salad for crunch instead of croutons! You can find it in the Asian aisle of your grocery store.
- Using a fancy, imported sharp cheddar is best and so very worth it, but do you know what? Plain ol’ bright orange cheddar cheese would be tasty, too, so don’t sweat it if you can’t find it. The sharp British stuff pairs really well with the mustard and garlic, so it’s worth a splurge now and then.
- You don’t have to add the grated nutmeg, but I keep a stash of them on hand and grate them in every batch of mashed potatoes and just about each roux I make. But it will be delicious without, and same goes for the green onions.
- Technically the Dijon mustard could be replaced with English mustard powder, but please, for the love of god, do not use regular yellow American mustard in its place. Not cool.
- 1 large head cauliflower cut into florets;
- OR half a head cauliflower and equal parts broccoli or Brussels sprouts
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 cups grated, sharp cheddar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons unbleached flour
- 1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed slightly with a knife
- 1 cup sliced green onions (green parts only)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/2 cup panko
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- spray oil
1. Preheat your oven to 450 F.
2. Add your winter veg to a microwave-safe bowl and add an inch or two of water at the bottom. Cover with a paper towel and cook till tender. Microwaves aren’t considered a tool for fancy cookin’, but heating up water molecules is what they were born to do, so stop saying mean things about them and let them do their job. This took me about three minutes. You’re going for crisp-tender because your gratin is going to bake in the oven later.
3. Now you get to make the roux: melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pan over mediumish heat.
4. Whisk in the flour and cook for about three minutes.
5. Slowly add the milk while whisking constantly, then lower heat to a simmer. Add your crushed garlic cloves and cook for about 10 minutes more on low heat.
6. Remove from heat and add cheese, green onions, salt, pepper, nutmeg and Dijion mustard. Stir it all together until cheese is melted and you have an unctuous sauce.
7. Add vegetables to an oven safe dish and pour cheese sauce over. Scatter panko over the top and spritz with oil.
8. Bake for ten minutes and dig in.