We've been entertaining a lot recently, which means that instead of our usual shopping cycle, we've been buying and cooking for crowds, and then spending the rest of the week nibbling whatever odd concoction of leftovers we find ourselves with. Frittatas have made good use of whatever vegetables are lying aound, accompanied by the random piece of lamb from the most recent party. I don't want to sound like a socialite- we do not normally entertain like this, it's just that there's been this event and that, and a group of friends visiting, and one going away, and so we've found ourselves in this entertaining cycle.
The problem is when entertaining leaves us with an imbalance of leftovers- a fridge filled with 3 huge hunks of cheese, a 6 pack of Leffe, 2 lemons, half a stale baguette, and a few bottles of Champagne. Besides feeling like a lush, every time I open the fridge I think guility about those two huge wedges of sharp cheddar someone kindly brought to one of our parties. My first instinct was to make macaroni and cheese, but goodness I do need a vegetable in my life, so I decided to swap out the pasta for cauliflower. The result is pretty much the same as the classic French cauliflower gratin- both of which involve cauliflower covered in a classic white sauce enriched with cheese and baked.
It was, in the way that anything smothered in cheese should be, delicious. I topped it with some slivered almonds for crunch, and it's filling enough for a simple dinner or light enough as a side dish. If your guests leave you with a different type of cheese as leftovers, I bet this would be good with another combination- say gouda and hazelnuts, or goat cheese and walnuts.
Cheddar and Cauliflower Gratin with Almonds
Make sure not to overcook the cauliflower, as no one wants mushy vegetables in their gratin.
1 head cauliflower, separated into florets
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 cups milk
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese, divided
salt, red pepper to taste
3 tablespoons slivered almonds
1. In a pot of boiling water, cook the cauliflower for about 3-5 minutes, until crisp-tender. Do not overcook, drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to stop cooking.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Stir in the flour and whisk gently over low heat until light brown. Stir in the milk and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in 1 1/4 cups of the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.
3. Preheat oven to 350 F, grease a casserole dish. Place cauliflower florets in the casserole, pour cheese sauce over top. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup cheese. Bake for a total of 25-30 minutes, sprinkle the almonds over the top in the last 5-10 minutes of baking.