Warm, cheesy and super easy

Food: Cauliflower Gratin

A stray cat looking for warmth on a frigid winter’s day serves as a furry reminder about the importance of comfort food, such as cauliflower gratin

By Louise Crosby

Late last winter, as the snow was melting, a strange creature appeared at our back door. Turns out it was a cat, or more accurately, half a cat, with bony haunches and huge matted clumps of black fur. He had obviously survived a terrible ordeal, an unusually harsh Canadian winter, apparently with little food. We fed him, of course, and he stuck around, making our back deck his home through the spring, summer and fall. And what an appetite. By late November he was as solid as a little black bear, with a good, thick coat.

A stray cat named Charlie

Charlie on the back deck. Louise Crosby photo.

We called him Charlie because he’s male and because it rings nicely with Chicklet, the name of our official cat. He’s a lovely guy, just a little skittish, and particular about who approaches him and from what angle, and he absolutely, positively, will not come indoors. Worried about winter coming on, I tried bringing him into the kitchen, but the terror in his eyes put an end to that idea. So I built him a home out of a cardboard box, à la Martha Stewart crafts, lining it with fleece and a cat heating pad, and cutting a little door out of one side. I put it on the deck under the covered porch and wrapped it in plastic, and he took to it immediately.

Charlie is doing OK, despite the recent piercing cold snap with killer windchill. I still worry, though, especially at night, but there he is in the morning waiting by the back door for his breakfast. Sometimes I give him fried chicken breast cut into little pieces to keep his spirits up, and it seems to be working. Here’s to saving cats.

All this talk of cold makes one hanker for comfort food, and that’s where this cauliflower gratin, courtesy of Laura Calder, cookbook author and host of the Food Network’s French Food at Home, comes in. To me it’s a healthier version of mac’ and cheese, and while gruyère cheese is très français and très délicieux, I have tweaked the recipe ever so slightly by adding a good sharp cheddar, which really brings the dish to life. Helpful tips: Remove the cauliflower from the boiling water while it is still firm, as it will continue cooking in the oven and you don’t want mush with your cheese. Also, do not be shy with the salt.

Happy New Year everyone.

Cauliflower Gratin
1½ cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, split
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
½ cup grated gruyere cheese, or cheese of choice
Salt and pepper
1 pound cauliflower florets
¼ cup breadcrumbs
2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Make the sauce: Bring the milk to a simmer in a saucepan with the bay leaf and garlic. Cover, turn off the heat, and let infuse, about 15 minutes. Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour and cook for a minute to remove the raw flour taste. Gradually whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring, until thick. Stir in the cheese, season with salt and pepper, and reserve.
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F/210 degrees C. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Salt it, as for pasta, and blanch cauliflower until just shy of being tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well. Pat dry with a tea towel. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with the sauce and dump into a gratin dish. Scatter over the breadcrumbs and Parmesan and bake until bubbling and gratinéed on top.

Serves: 6


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THE EX-PRESS, January 6, 2016


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