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head of cauliflower

Whole Roasted & Cheesy Cauliflower for Sunday Supper

I love how cauliflower is having its big moment. I’ve got a full feed of inspiration from this once-sidelined veg–from cauliflower rice and purée to “steaks” and buffalo-style.

The excitement for this winter white vegetable is understandable. I remember my own cauliflower revelation during a lunch at Lupa in New York with a prominent food editor.

Alas, all that endures 15 years later is the piquant memory of the pasta dish: spicy caramelized cauliflower ragu with whole wheat linguini and buttery bread crumbs.

roasted cauliflower with cheese sauce

With spring around the corner, it seems like a last opportunity to celebrate our new flame, cauliflower.

And while it’s terrific as florets–especially when roasted in a blasting oven until nearly scorched {like this}–or cut into slabs and seared {like this}, I’m enamored with whole roasted cauliflower the most.

Cooking Cauliflower Whole

Way before her time, my mother served us a whole head of cauliflower smothered in cheese cause for many family Sunday suppers. She knew how to turn a bland vegetable I thought looked like a brain into a side dish that made me want seconds as a kid.

coring a head of cauliflower

This is exactly what I wanted to make for my kids. But how to cook a whole head of cauliflower?

I knew the prep involved trimming away the leaves and cutting out the core while leaving the smaller stems in tact. {Something now called “vegetable butchery“–how about that?} Then what?

Originally, steaming struck me as the go-to technique. But it’s hard to control doneness with a whole head so that the core is cooked but the florets aren’t overcooked. {Sound familiar? This is the issue when cooking anything–meat, poultry, fish–whole.}

You want it to be tender but not mushy. A slight al dente texture is good.

roasted head of cauliflower

Baking is a better option, but it takes a long time for the core to become tender. So, I combined methods by baking the whole head but wrapping it in foil for the first stage of cooking so it steamed in its own moisture at the same time.

It took under an hour, a leisurely amount of time to make a cheese sauce flavored with white sharp cheddar from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese {a fave}.

Once a knife slipped all the way to the core of the cauliflower easily, I poured over the cream sauce and then upped the heat to turn the cheese golden brown.

The result?

A cheese-cloaked whole roasted cauliflower that my whole family loved. Thanks for the inspiration, Mom!

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roasted cauliflower with cheese sauce
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Whole Roasted Cauliflower with White Cheddar Sauce

This recipe has three steps: baking a head of cauliflower until just tender, making the white cheddar sauce and final roasting to brown it all beautifully. You can cook the cauliflower and make the cheese sauce 2 days in advance and then reheat them together in a hot oven. Serve as a vegetarian main dish or a side dish for roast chicken, salmon or beef.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 219 kcal
Author Lynne

Ingredients

  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 cups milk whole or skim
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon dry mustard
  • pinch nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup white sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Use a paring knife to trim the leaves from the cauliflower. Cut around the main core to remove it while keeping the cauliflower in tact. Wash the cauliflower and shake it dry.

  2. Place the cauliflower in a shallow baking dish. Rub it all over lightly with oil and season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Cover with foil, pinching the foil around the edges of the baking dish to seal it tightly. Bake for 45 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, make the white cheddar sauce. Melt the butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. When it foams, add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. 

  4. Whisk in the milk and bring to a simmer. Season with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, black pepper, dry mustard and nutmeg. Whisk until smooth and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8 minutes.

  5. Turn off the heat but leave the pan on the burner. Add the cheeses and stir until melted. Taste for seasoning.

  6. Check the cauliflower, being careful about the steam when removing the foil, and test it with a table knife. If the core is still tough, leave the cauliflower in the oven uncovered for 10-15 more minutes until the knife slides through to the center easily.

  7. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F. Pour the white cheddar sauce over the cauliflower and bake uncovered until nicely browned, 20-25 minutes more. To serve, use a serving spoon to scoop portions, making sure to sweep through the additional cream sauce in the baking dish.

 

Comments

  1. I love your whole roasted cauliflower with cheese sauce. My Mum used to cook one on a Sunday with our roast but it was usually a bit mushy but we all loved the cheese sauce. It’s a great idea to roast the cauliflower in foil so it steams in its own moisture, pinning for later 🙂

    1. Your mom, too? Funny how things come back around. Yeah, it was probably all about the cheese sauce for me then as well. Hope you enjoy this updated and browned version, Sarah.

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