stealth cauliflower

My kids are pretty used to eating a wide variety of tastes and flavors but there are a few things, like cauliflower, that I have a hard time getting them to enjoy. Since we do our best to try and eat local produce as much as possible (and when we can’t, we stick with the seasonal vegetables that would be growing in our area at the time) that means that even here in sunny California there isn’t a lot of variety in winter. Potatoes, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts…you know…

So tonight I tried my hand with a new form of cauliflower subterfuge. I made a gratin with béchamel , served it over elbow macaroni and passed it off as Mac & Cheese. The kids gobbled it right up! I can understand why as I had two heaping portions myself.

Cauliflower with Béchamel Sauce

(adapted from Marcella Hazan’s, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

for 6 servings:

1 medium head cauliflower, about 2 pounds
Béchamel Sauce (see below)
3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano‑reggiano cheese
Whole nutmeg
An oven‑to‑table baking dish
for smearing and dotting the baking dish

1. Boil and drain the cauliflower: Detach and discard most of
the leaves, except for the small, tender inner ones. Cut a deep cross into the root end. Bring 4 to 5 quarts of water to a rapid boil. The more water you use the sweeter the cauliflower will taste and the faster it will cook. Put in the cauliflower and when the water returns to a boil, adjust heat to cook at a moderate boil. Cook, uncovered for 10 minutes. Drain immediately when done. Separate the florets and cut them into bite‑size slices about ½ inch thick. Put them in a bowl and toss them with a little salt.

2. Preheat oven to 400′.

3. Make the béchamel sauce (see below). When it reaches a
medium density, remove it from heat and mix in all but 3 tablespoons of the grated Parmesan and a tiny grating of nutmeg‑‑about 1/8 teaspoon.

4. Add the béchamel to the bowl with the cauliflower and fold
it in gently, coating the florets well.

5. Smear the bottom of a baking dish with butter. Put in the
cauliflower and all the béchamel in the bowl. The dish should be able to contain the cauliflower pieces in a layer not more than 1 ½ inches deep.
Sprinkle the top with the remaining 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan and dot lightly with butter. Bake on the uppermost rack of the preheated oven until a light crust forms on top, about 15 to 20 minutes. After taking it out of the oven, let the cauliflower settle for a few minutes before serving.

Béchamel Sauce

A smooth, luxuriantly creamy béchamel is one of the most
useful preparations in the repertory of an Italian cook and it is easy to master, if you heed three basic rules. First, never allow the flour to become colored when you cook it with the butter, or it will acquire a burnt, pasty taste. Second, add the milk to the flour and butter mixture gradually and off heat to keep lumps from forming. Third, never stop stirring until the sauce is formed.

About 1 2/3 cups medium‑thick béchamel

2 cups milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
3 tablespoons all‑purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Put the milk in a saucepan, turn on the heat to medium low,
and bring the milk just to the verge of boiling, to the point when it begins to form a ring of small, pearly bubbles.

2. While heating the milk, put the butter in a heavy‑bottomed,
4‑ to 6‑cup saucepan, and turn on the heat to low. When the butter has melted completely, add all the flour, stirring it in with a wooden spoon. Cook, while stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Do not allow the flour to become colored. Remove from heat.

3. Add the hot milk to the flour‑and‑butter mixture, no more than 2 tablespoons of it at a time. Stir steadily and thoroughly. As soon as the first 2 tablespoons of milk have been incorporated into the mixture, add 2 more, and continue to stir. Repeat this procedure until you have added 1/2 cup milk; you can now put in the rest of the milk 1/2 cup at a time, stirring steadfastly, until all the milk has been smoothly amalgamated with the flour and butter.

4. Place the pan over low heat, add the salt, and cook, stirring without interruption, until the sauce is as dense as thick cream. To make it even thicker, should a recipe require it, cook and stir a little longer. For a thinner sauce, cook it a little less. If you find any lumps forming, dissolve them by beating the sauce rapidly with a whisk.

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