Cauliflower au Gratin

We would do this a bit differently, these days.

The technical definition of a gratin is a dish topped with something (usually bread crumbs, cheese, or both) and then browned. It’s a broad definition. When you get traditional French onion soup in a crock that’s been topped with a piece of bread and melted cheese, it’s a gratin. When you get an artichoke filled with a souffle, topped with bread crumbs and browned (pelase tell me you do this), it’s a gratin. The chorizo and chilies macaroni and cheese from last weekend is a gratin.

Traditionally speaking, you’d use a bechamel, but this recipe calls for cream of celery soup. I typically put celery seed in bechamel for gratins, so I can see the attraction. This might still be worth trying. But one thing we would absolutely do differently is: we wouldn’t cook cauliflower this much.

It’s just a cultural thing that’s changed over the years, primarily due to the introduction of Eastern cooking to our palates. We no longer expect vegetables to have all texture cooked out of them. Additionally, when we didn’t know to peel our cauliflower, we had to cook it longer to get the indigestible, fibrous skin soft enough to chew. Now that we know better, there isn’t a need to cook it for this long.

ksu_folder A family recipe provided by Jennifer Kiel of Washington, DC, from her mother-in-law’s collection, started in Kent, Ohio.

Cauliflower au Gratin

1 medium cauliflower
1 can cream of celery soup
2-1/2 oz. jar sliced mushrooms, drained
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Wash cauliflower; remove outer leaves; cut out center core. Cook in enough salted boiling water to cover, about 20 minutes or until fork tender, but not mushy. Drain well; place in greased casserole. Two packages frozen cauliflower may be used, in which case, boil only a couple of minutes.

Heat undiluted soup; stir in mushrooms. Spoon over cauliflower; sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees about 15 minutes or until cheese is melted and browned. Sprinkle with paprika. Yields 6 to 8 servings.

When cooking cauliflower, a little lemon juice or white vinegar in the water retains the whiteness and cuts down the strong odor.

Yesterdish suggestion: For fresh cauliflower, peel it and boil it only five minutes. With frozen cauliflower, just thaw it; don’t boil it at all. The formation of ice crystals in the freezing process tends to produce the same effect as blanching, so consider frozen vegetables, in general, cooked once.

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