We are addicted to this comforting winter dish that uses all parts of the cauliflower, not just the florets, so I included it in my Mediterranean Vegetarian Feasts. The first time I made it with anchovies to spice-up the cauliflower’s sweetness (see variation). I liked it a lot, but Costas definitely prefers the vegetarian, Feta version, so I begin there.
My recipe is loosely based on a broccoli and potato gratin from Provence, described by Guy Gedda in his classic book La Table d’un Provençal.
Serves 4-5 (I use a clay 9-by-8 inch (23X20 cm) baking pan; a square, oval or round roughly 9 or 10-inch (23 or 20 cm) baking pan works just as well)
1 head cauliflower (about 3 pounds)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup whole milk
Olive oil Béchamel Sauce (recipe follows)
1/2 pound Feta cheese, crumbled
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
About 1/2 cup Olive oil
1/4 cup whole-grain breadcrumbs
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, coarsely ground
Preheat the oven to 400 F (about 200 C).
Pare the hard stem of the cauliflower, discarding only the outer layers along with any wilted green leaves. Quarter the cauliflower, separate the florets from the stem and arrange the florets in a basket or colander that can be fitted over a pot (or a steamer, if you have one).
Place the stems in a pot and add water to cover. Sprinkle with some salt and bring to a boil. Place the florets on top, cover and steam for about 15 minutes, or until the florets are tender. The stems should be tender too. If not, boil a few minutes more.
Drain the stems and pat dry with kitchen paper. Drop them in a food processor together with the garlic and milk and process to get a smooth paste. Mix with the béchamel, add Feta cheese and plenty of freshly ground pepper. Stir, taste and adjust seasoning.
Brush the pan with olive oil and sprinkle with half the breadcrumbs and seeds. Lay the cauliflower florets over the crumb and seed mixture and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Top with the béchamel mixture, sprinkle with the rest of the crumbs and seeds, drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 30 minutes, or until golden and sizzling. Let cool slightly, serving warm or at room temperature.
Cauliflower Gratin with Garlic and Anchovies
Omit the cheese and add 5-6 drained anchovy fillets with the garlic and cauliflower stems in the food processor.
Olive oil and Yogurt Béchamel Sauce
Many years ago I created a lighter version of béchamel, the ubiquitous and heavy sauce used in moussaka , pastitsio and other Greek dishes. I replace the butter base with olive oil and maintain the creamy consistency with 1 part yogurt to milk. The recipe was published in the seventh revised edition of the all-time classic Joy of Cooking (1997), compiled by influential cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli.
Makes 2 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
A combination 1 cup milk and 1 cup plain yogurt (not thick) or 2 cups whole milk
In a saucepan, over medium-high heat, add the olive oil and flour and cook, stirring with a whisk, until frothy. Remove from the heat and continue stirring for 30 seconds. Add the milk and yogurt mixture, stir a few times, and place again over medium-high heat. Stir constantly until thickened. Remove from the heat and continue stirring a few more seconds.