Cauliflower Gratin

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Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve!

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Easy Cauliflower au Gratin Recipe 

Cauliflower gratin has everything I want in a great side dish  — it’s quick to assemble, can be made with pre-chopped bags of cauliflower florets for even easier prep, and it’s packed with two types of cheese. 

It’s a hearty casserole disguised as an elegant side dish. I mean, it’s essentially baked cauliflower with a creamy cheese sauce that’s presented in a pretty way. Not that I’m complaining whatsoever! 

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Any recipe that gets my whole family to eat their vegetables and takes just 15 minutes of active prep time to whip up is wonderful by me. It’s a great weeknight dinner side especially when the weather turns chillier. Roasted vegetables of any kind are always a favorite.

But it’s also a wonderful side dish to add to your Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter dinner. Despite the cheese sauce, it’s not as heavy-tasting as green bean casserole or sweet potato casserole, but it’s still incredibly rich. This easy cauliflower au gratin holds its own next to classic holiday entrees like glazed ham,roast turkey, glazed pork loin roast, or slow cooker turkey breast.

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

As written, the recipe comfortably feeds six people as a side dish, but you’re welcome to double the recipe if you’re expecting additional company this holiday season.

What Is Cauliflower au Gratin? 

Cauliflower gratin is essentially a baked cauliflower cheese casserole that’s made with fresh cauliflower florets tossed in a creamy homemade cheesy sauce and covered with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping

The term “au gratin” is French for “with a crust”.

Generally speaking, any dish with the label “au gratin” attached to it means it’s been topped with breadcrumbs and / or cheese and then baked. 

Because I can’t resist cheese, and because I like to think of this as more of a special occasion side dish, I topped this easy cauliflower gratin recipe with both Gruyere AND Parmesan cheese.

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Cauliflower Gratin Ingredients 

Don’t let the “au gratin” title fool you into thinking this cauliflower cheese bake is in any way complicated or requires special ingredients. It’s actually the complete opposite! 

You’ll need the following easy-to-find ingredients to make this recipe: 

  • Cauliflower florets 
  • Olive oil
  • Seasoning salt
  • Butter
  • All-purpose flour
  • Milk (whole milk is best) 
  • Salt
  • Fresh thyme
  • Grated nutmeg
  • Gruyere cheese (or Swiss cheese) 
  • Panko bread crumbs
  • Grated Parmesan cheese
Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Note: Scroll down to the recipe card section of the post for the ingredients with amounts included and for more complete directions.

How to Make The Best Cauliflower Gratin 

This is a straightforward recipe but there are few different steps to it. The cauliflower has to be roasted before being coated in the homemade creamy cheese sauce and then baked again together. Because if you don’t roast the cauliflower, the finished casserole could be either very watery once baked and/or the cauliflower will still be too crunchy or raw.

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Here’s an overview of how this recipe comes together: 

Step 1: On a baking sheet, toss the cauliflower florets with olive oil and season with seasoning salt. Bake at 425ºF for about 20 minutes. 

Seasoning Salt

Seasoning salt (or seasoned salt, same thing) is a mix of salt (not shocking), pepper, and other seasonings.

I use a solid 2 teaspoons of seasoning salt when I am seasoning the raw cauliflower before roasting it on the sheet pan. Cauliflower is a pretty bland vegetable and needs to be properly seasoned so it has some actual flavor. Plus, you are roasting a head of it. That’s a lot! So 2 teaspoons is by no means ‘too much’.

If you don’t have seasoning salt on hand, I would use 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt plus 1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Of course, always season to your tastes, not mine! There are other spices in seasoning salt like paprika and onion, but your roasted cauliflower will still be fine without it and you can just use good ole S&P.

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Step 2: While the cauliflower bakes, make the cheese sauce. You’ll first melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the flour. Whisk in the milk, salt, thyme, and optional nutmeg. This is your roux.

Step 3: Keep cooking the roux, stirring continually, until thickened. Then, stir in the grated cheeses and cook just until they’re totally melted. 

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Step 4: Add the roasted cauliflower pan to a 2-quart baking dish.

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Step 5: Pour the warm cheese sauce over top. 

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Step 6: Combine the panko breadcrumbs with additional Parmesan cheese and sprinkle evenly over the cauliflower. 

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Step 7: Bake the au gratin cauliflower casserole at 375ºF until slightly golden and the edges are bubbling. 

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin Recipe FAQs

Why is my cauliflower gratin watery? 

If you didn’t roast the cauliflower prior to topping it with cheese sauce, it’s going to make the finished cauliflower gratin casserole watery. Cauliflower contains a lot of moisture, and roasting it removes most of the excess moisture.

Plus roasting provides that lovely roasted vegetable flavor which makes even ‘plain’ vegetables like cauliflower have more flavor and pizazz.

Also, the cauliflower in the gratin would be crunchy and half raw if you don’t roast it first, so don’t skip this step! Normally I am all about some crisp-tender veggies but this is a time where softer is better.Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

What does “au gratin” mean in cooking? 

Any dish labeled as “au gratin” typically has a cheese and / or breadcrumb topping and is baked in a casserole dish. 

What causes cheese sauce to curdle? 

If your cheese sauce curdled, you likely got it too hot. Although it probably didn’t start with the cheese; it probably started with the roux + milk. Make sure when you add the milk that you really watch the heat and don’t let it come up to any type of fast boil – just a simmer.

Then, after you add the two types of shredded cheese, also watch the heat. You need to cook over medium to medium-high heat to prevent it from curdling. And continue cooking just until the cheeses have melted and then immediately remove from the heat to prevent curdling. 

How can I make my cheese sauce super smooth? 

The first thing to remember is to stir it constantly to prevent lumps. I like to use a wire whisk for this job. You should also remember to cook the cheese sauce at medium to medium-high heat, otherwise it will curdle and form lumps. 

But the MOST IMPORTANT thing to do is to shred your own cheeses using a box grater. Pre-shredded cheese sold in a bag is coated in starch or another anti-caking agent which can make cheese sauces grainy or gloopy in texture. Buy an actual block of cheese and shred it yourself for the smoothest, creamiest cheese sauce for your cauliflower gratin recipe. 

While you can sometimes find Parmesan already shredded in bags, it’s not super common. And I have never seen Gruyere sold like that so you need to shred it anyway. May as well just shred two blocks. Literally this is a 1 minute job per block, tops. Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

can i use a different type of cheese for my cheesy cauliflower gratin?

I use 1 cup Gruyere cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan in total for this recipe. I do recommend those two cheeses to preserve the elegant flavor and nice meltability they lend.

Gruyere is pricey, I know. However, it’s worth the splurge. Use the rest of it in either French Onion Pork Chops or French Onion Soup! The only real acceptable substitute is Swiss cheese.

For the Parmesan, it’s really ‘go Parm, or go home’ here! I can’t think of any acceptable substitution.

what kind of milk makes the best cauliflower au gratin?

I use whole milk in this recipe. You can probably get away with 2% if you’re trying to shave off some fat and calories, although it won’t be quite as rich tasting. However, don’t use a lighter milk that that (no 1% or skim).

If you’re wanting to go all out, half-and-half will definitely make for a super rich and creamy cheese sauce. However, more is not better. I actually would not use heavy cream here as it’s too thick an rich and the sauce may end up being too thick or heavy.

do i have to use panko bread crumbs?

Panko breadcrumbs are sometimes known as Japanese bread crumbs, and yes, you have to use them. They will lend the most wonderful little bit of crispy crunch to this easy holiday or elevated weekday side dish recipe.

Do NOT use regular Italian-style breadcrumbs. They are soft, mushy, and will not do the texture of the soft (and almost mushy) cauliflower any favors so avoid.

Wondering what to do with extra panko breadcrumbs? I have 20+ recipes using panko breadcrumbs right here. Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Can cauliflower gratin be made in advance? 

This is one casserole that’s best enjoyed right away. You might be able to roast the cauliflower in advance, then make the cheese sauce day-of but I’m not 100% convinced that will be delicious and actually sounds like more work than it’s worth.

So, I suggest making the recipe as written on the day you plan on serving the cheesy cauliflower casserole. It will hold decently well at room temp for an hour or two so if you’re setting this out on a Thanksgiving buffet table, it’s fine if it’s not immediately consumed piping hot from the oven.Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

What’s the best cauliflower for cauliflower gratin? 

You can use one large head of cauliflower OR two bags of cauliflower florets that have been pre-chopped and washed (although some bags say you can skip the washing and I admit I don’t bother if I have just purchased a convenience product).

Bagged cauliflower is more expensive, by a long shot, ounce for ounce. Although still not “expensive”, you do get much more value if you chop your own. If you are using bagged, make sure that the sizes of the pieces are pretty uniform. I have found within bags of either broccoli or cauliflower, there are always a few very big pieces that you should take a paring knife to and pare down to actual bite-sized.

Make sure to use fresh cauliflower because frozen will not work. Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Can I make this recipe using frozen cauliflower? 

No, I do not recommend using frozen cauliflower to make cauliflower au gratin. Frozen cauliflower releases extra moisture in the oven and would likely end up being too mushy to suit the creamy cheese sauce. Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Storage Instructions

Store leftover au gratin cauliflower in the fridge for up to five days. Cover the pan with plastic wrap or transfer the leftovers to an airtight container to keep it fresh. I reheat leftovers in the microwave, but you can also warm servings in a 350ºF oven in about 10 minutes. 

I don’t think the casserole would freeze well since it’s made with a cheese sauce and then you will have to contend with the potential mushy nature of frozen-and-thawed cauliflower. Nope. As such, you need to enjoy it within about five days of baking it. 

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

What to Serve with Cauliflower Gratin 

Au gratin cauliflower works well with just about any grilled or baked protein and is perfect for either weeknight dinners or holiday get-togethers!

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

Serve the cheesy baked cauliflower casserole with one of the following entrees: 

Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!

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5 from 3 votes

Cauliflower Gratin

By Averie Sunshine
Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin — Cauliflower florets are coated in a creamy cheese sauce and sprinkled with a crispy panko breadcrumb topping before being baked to golden, bubbly perfection! This is an EASY yet ELEGANT side dish that’s perfect for busy weeknights and holiday meals alike including Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Eve!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 6
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Ingredients  

  • two 12-ounce bags cauliflower florets OR 1 large head of cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons seasoning salt, or as desired
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups whole milk, 2% or half-and-half may be substituted
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg, optional* (See Notes)
  • 1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs, do not use regular bread crumbs
  • ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese, divided
  • Fresh parsley or fresh thyme, optional for garnishing

Instructions 

  • Preheat oven to 425F. If you have a convection oven, now is a great time to use it.
  • If desired for easier cleanup, line a baking sheet with foil. Spray the baking sheet (or the foil on top of it) with cooking spray and evenly scatter the cauliflower florets. Tip – Make sure they are all actually bite-sized which is practical for both eating them and so that they all cook evenly.
  • Roasting Cauliflower – Evenly drizzle with olive oil, evenly sprinkle with seasoning salt, and toss with your hands to combine and coat evenly. Tips – I use 2 teaspoons seasoning salt because cauliflower needs a lot of help in the salt department and you are flavoring a very large amount of a bland vegetable, but of course, season to taste. If you don't keep seasoning salt on hand, then I would use 1 to 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste.
  • Roast for about 20 minutes, or until golden browned around the tips and edges, and tender. Depending on their size and your oven, they may be done 5 minutes early, or 5 minutes later, so keep a watchful eye and check on them early. If desired, you can flip and toss them once midway through roasting for even cooking. Tip – While the cauliflower roasts, move onto the next steps so the sauce is ready when the cauliflower is done.
  • Cheese Sauce – To a medium saucepan, add the butter and heat over medium heat to melt, about 1 minute; stir constantly.
  • Once melted, sprinkle the flour over the butter and cook for 1 minute, or until sand colored; whisk constantly. This is called making a roux. Tip – Do not shortchange this step because the finished dish will both taste awful from the raw flour and the cheese sauce will be thin and runny.
  • Slowly add the milk, salt, thyme, optional nutmeg, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until thickened; whisk constantly to avoid lumps and ensure even thickening.
  • Add the Gruyere cheese, half the Parmesan, and heat until the cheese melts; whisk constantly. Take off the heat and set aside once melted and combined.
  • Assembly – To a 1.7-quart baking dish (or similar sized baking dish) that's sprayed with cooking spray, add the cauliflower and smooth it evenly.
  • Evenly pour the cheese sauce over the top.
  • In a small bowl, combine the the panko breadcrumbs, remaining Parmesan cheese, stir to combine. And evenly sprinkle this mixture over the top of the cheese sauce.
  • Baking – Reduce the oven heat to 375F (if you are using convection, reduce the heat to 375F convection) and bake for about 20 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden browned or as desired.
  • Serving- Optionally garnish with fresh herbs and serve.
  • Storage – Extra gratin will keep airtight in the fridge for 5 days. Reheat gently in the microwave as desired. I don't recommend freezing this dish due to the cheese sauce and the texture of the cauliflower will also change during the freezing/thawing process.

Notes

*Nutmeg – I personally do not use this in my gratin, despite it being a 'traditional' ingredient. However, I am extremely sensitive to the flavor and I don't care for it in savory dishes. 1/4 teaspoon is hardly anything, but to me still detectable. Use if desired, or omit if desired, based on personal taste preferences. It does not matter if you use ground nutmeg or freshly grate it (more difficult, and more expensive) so I would opt for ground out of a jar.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 326kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 17g, Fat: 20g, Saturated Fat: 9g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 10g, Cholesterol: 43mg, Sodium: 1070mg, Fiber: 6g, Sugar: 9g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

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Please note: I have only made the recipe as written, and cannot give advice or predict what will happen if you change something. If you have a question regarding changing, altering, or making substitutions to the recipe, please check out the FAQ page for more info.

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