How to make a cauliflower casserole without it turning to soup

  • The cheese on this cheesy cauliflower casserole adheres to the top and doesn't melt into the water released by the vegetables.

    The cheese on this cheesy cauliflower casserole adheres to the top and doesn't melt into the water released by the vegetables. Courtesy of Don Mauer

 
 
Posted5/11/2022 6:00 AM

If I've learned anything about a low-carb food plan, it's how to turn cauliflower into just about anything from a mashed potato look-alike to pizza crust.

There may be some who don't like cauliflower much. Not me. I liked it when I was a kid since it was always served in a cheese sauce, usually one that included Velveeta.

 

Even melted Velveeta turns watery once cooked cauliflower is added to it. No surprise since cauliflower is 92% water.

Over the years, I've tried to make a cheese sauce for cauliflower that didn't turn into soup. Starting with a thickened white sauce, I'd added loads of cheese. After adding cooked cauliflower, that beautifully thick sauce always turned to cheese soup by the time it arrived at my dinner table.

The reason is food science. If you've ever salted sliced cucumbers or cabbage and let it sit for an hour, it throws off water, sometimes lots of it.

That's what happens with cheese sauce over cauliflower. Cheese is high in sodium, and when the high-water-content cauliflower sits in a salty cheese sauce, it can't help but give off some water.

I don't know of any kitchen magic to keep that from happening.

I came across a cauliflower casserole with cheddar in Food & Wine magazine from 10 years ago. Phoebe Lapine shared her recipe. The casserole picture looked so delicious I just had to make it. Well, my version of it.

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My main thought was that since it's baked, some of the cauliflower water would evaporate while it's baking and might keep the cheese sauce from turning into a puddle.

Lapine used mild white cheddar. I went with a sharper, organic yellow cheddar. And, since I love Gruyere cheese, I decided to top my version with it.

Lapine seasoned her casserole with crushed red pepper, which would have been fine with me, but my partner isn't a fan of spicy heat. I seasoned my casserole with white pepper, which adds some heat without overwhelming.

Since some of the comments about her recipe said that the cauliflower wasn't as tender as they liked, I parboiled mine a little longer until it was firm/tender; knowing it would cook some more when baked.

Using organic bacon fat to keep the cheese casserole from sticking to the dish added a slight smoky note, in addition to the smoked paprika.

We grow thyme all over a pathway in my garden, so snipping some fresh herbs for my casserole was a cinch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Into the oven went the casserole for a quick 30 minutes. When the casserole came out, there was a touch of water around the edge. I let the casserole rest for 5 minutes so some of the water could evaporate.

The cheese sauce wasn't runny at all, and the flavor, due to my garden-fresh thyme, was excellent.

Give my version a try and see what you think.

• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe makeover requests. Write to him at 1leanwizard@gmail.com.

Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this cheesy cauliflower casserole.
Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this cheesy cauliflower casserole. - Courtesy of Don Mauer
Two Cheese Cauliflower Casserole

1 tablespoon organic bacon fat (or softened butter)

4 cups cauliflower florets (from 1 medium head cauliflower weighing about 1¼ pounds)

1 cup organic sour cream

4 ounces grated organic cheddar cheese

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon white pepper

2 ounces grated Gruyere cheese

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Place the oven rack in the center position and begin heating to 350 degrees.

Lightly coat the interior bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with the bacon fat (or butter). Set aside.

Add 2 cups of water to a 5-quart saucepan. Add the cauliflower florets and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook for 6 to 8 minutes or until firm/tender. Drain the cauliflower in a colander and cool.

While the cauliflower cools, add sour cream, cheddar cheese, paprika, thyme, salt and white pepper to a large mixing bowl and stir or whisk together to combine. Add the cooled cauliflower and, using a large rubber spatula, fold the florets into the sour cream mixture until evenly coated. Transfer the cauliflower to the prepared baking dish; distributing evenly. Distribute the Gruyere cheese over the cauliflower.

Bake for 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown slightly. Remove from the oven to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Serves 6

Nutrition values per serving: 232 calories (69% from fat), 17.8 g fat (11.5 g saturated fat), 7.6 g carbohydrates (5.6 net carbs), 3.3 g sugars, 2 g fiber, 10.7 g protein, 61 mg cholesterol, 505 mg sodium.

SaltSense: Omitting the added salt reduces the sodium per serving to 197 milligrams.

Based on a recipe from Food & Wine magazine by Phoebe Lapine.

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