I’ll let you in on a little secret. Of all Ina Garten’s cookbooks, “Barefoot in Paris” (Clarkson Potter 2004) was the least successful in terms of sales. That came as a complete surprise to me because I find it one of the best “French” cookbooks I own. Ina adapted every recipe for American kitchens. Since it is pure Ina, its recipes are easy to follow and don’t make you run out and buy pots or pans or molds or even ingredients that aren’t found in most American kitchens. I’m willing to believe that “French” cooking just scares the bejesus out of most home cooks. That’s the only reason I can come up with for Ina’s adoring fans not to have latched onto this volume they way they have every other. And if you need further proof of just what a good idea it would be to get your hands on a copy, I would suggest we start right here.
Ina’s Cauliflower Gratin is a luscious, creamy-rich casserole filled with one of Fall’s best vegetables and wonderful Cheeses. And you need not make a mountain of it. A small portion will satisfy the cry for something creamy on the Thanksgiving table. And while Ina’s Gratin adds milk and cheese, Cauliflower itself is low in fat, low in carbohydrates but high in fiber, folate and vitamin C. It comes in colors — orange, purple and green but here it is in its white form, parboiled quickly then turned into the casserole where it meets its cream sauce and cheeses. By the way, it has a long history in French cooking dating back to the 16th Century and the kitchens of King Louis the 14th. I am hoping it will cut it in California which it should since that state is this country’s biggest grower of Cauliflower. And since my children honeymooned in Paris, I am hoping it will bring back happy memories for them.
Now I did step away from Ina’s recipe in a couple ways. For one, I happened to have some cheddar cheese that I wanted to use in lieu of the Gruyere called for by Ina. I don’t think it took away from the dish at all. But my second amendment may make Ina, and you, cringe. I cooked a trial run exactly as written. Since there were just the two of us, there was quite a sizeable leftover portion. Just as an experiment, and because I confess to loving them, I re-heated the casserole and once it got bubbling, I pulled it out of the oven and topped the whole thing with fried onions –the ones normally reserved for that green bean casserole made with a can of cream of mushroom soup. Trader Joe’s has them and if I could I’d likely just consume the whole tin of crunchy onion-y fried goodness all by itself. You can decide if you want to do this or not. Or you can go all fancy and make your own fried shallots. I will stick to my Trader Joe’s. Here is the original recipe.
Recipe for Ina Garten’s Cauliflower Gratin from “Barefoot in Paris” Serves 4-6 but as part of a Thanksgiving spread, serves 10-12 human sized portions. Prep time 20 mins. Cooking Time 30 mins.
1 (3-pound) head cauliflower, cut into large florets
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups hot milk
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated Gruyere, divided
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
1. Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, 1/2 cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan.
3. Pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom of an 8 by 11 by 2-inch baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining 1/4 cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned.
4. Then add fried onions if you so desire. Serve hot or at room temperature.