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(recipe, Matthew Smith)
The gratin is best just from the oven or warm, but like a quiche, it can be enjoyed at room temperature. Serve it alongside anything roasted -- it's nice with something a little rich like a roast -- or have it with a salad and call it supper.
You really should eat the gratin the day it is made, but if you've got leftovers, cover and refrigerate them, then let them come to room temperature or warm them briefly and gently in the oven or microwave.
You can replace the bacon with cubes of ham. You can certainly add herbs or spices to the mix -- thyme is good, but so is curry. And you can add a companion vegetable -- quickly sauteed onions come to mind, but there's no reason not to have the cauliflower share the stage with its more colorful cousin, broccoli.
- 1 cauliflower
- ¼ lb. bacon, cut crosswise into slender strips
- ⅓ cup all-purpose flour
- 5 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup heavy cream
- ⅔ cup whole milk
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 oz. Gruyere (you can use Emmenthal, or even Swiss in a pinch), grated
- Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Generously butter an oven-going pan that holds about 2½ quarts. (It's not elegant and it's a tad too big, but a 9-by-13-inch Pyrex pan is fine.) Put the dish on the baking sheet.
- Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Pull or cut the florets from the cauliflower, leaving about an inch or so of stem. Drop the florets into the boiling water and cook for 10 minutes. Drain, rinse the cauliflower under cold running water to cool it down, and pat it dry. (Alternatively, you can steam the florets over salted water. When they're fork-tender, drain and pat dry.)
- While the cauliflower is cooking, toss the bacon strips into a heavy skillet, put the skillet over medium heat, and cook just until the bacon is browned but not crisp. Drain and pat dry.
- Spread the cauliflower out in the buttered pan, and scatter over the bacon bits.
- Put the flour in a bowl and gradually whisk in the eggs. When the flour and eggs are blended, whisk in the cream and milk. Season the mixture with salt, pepper and nutmeg, and stir in about two thirds of the cheese. Pour the mixture over the cauliflower, shake the pan a little so that the liquid settles between the florets, and scatter over the remaining cheese.
- Bake the gratin for about 25 minutes, or until it is puffed and golden and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. If the top isn't as brown as you'd like it to be, run it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.