All but the cranberry compote and a dollop of gravy are gone, yet I’m not ready for the particular satisfactions of Thanksgiving dinner to be over. The deliciousness of that meal isn’t found in other menus: the gravy is rich with salty turkey fat, the Brussels sprouts are bitter and green, the cranberries sweet and sour, the potatoes creamy. With a bit of cold cranberries beside it, this cauliflower gratin brings all of those flavors together again, especially if you use the cauliflower’s leaves and have some leftover gravy. If not, Marmite (or Vegemite) will do well instead, and also be vegetarian. This dish is really just a baked version of the English standby, “cauli-cheese,” which is made with cheddar, but I used pecorino romano.
Post-Thanksgiving Baked Cauli-Cheese
1 head cauliflower with its leaves 3 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons flour, or less of cornstarch ¼ cup gravy or 2 tablespoons Marmite 1 ½ cups scalded buttermilk, or light cream and/or milk Grated pecorino romano, 1 – 2 cups 1 cup breadcrumbs salt and pepper a touch of grated nutmeg, if you like
Heat the oven to 350. Trim the end of the stalk and any shriveled leaves from the cauliflower, and hack the head into big chunks, stalk, leaves and all. Boil in plenty of salted water till quite soft. Drain in a colander, saving a cup or so of the cooking water. Scald the buttermilk in a small pan over low heat until just bubbling, and remove from heat. Put a gratin dish over a medium-high flame and melt the butter. Lower the flame, and add the starch and whisk constantly until the starch is absorbed in the butter and the roux becomes lightly colored.
Incorporate the gravy or marmite, always with a whisk. Add the scalded buttermilk all at once, and whisk vigorously and patiently until thickened, not so many minutes. Season with 1 teaspoon of black pepper, a pinch of salt, and nutmeg. Add some of the cooking water to loosen the sauce, and mix in the cheese. Toss the drained cauliflower in the sauce, and cover with enough breadcrumbs that they partially soak in it. Bake uncovered for about 10 minutes, bubbly and brown.