Food

Alison Roman’s Creamy Cauliflower and Onion Gratin

Creamy Cauliflower and Onion Gratin

Alison Roman would like you to know right up front what not to expect in Nothing Fancy, her new book about cooking for friends. “If you’re looking for tips on how to fold linen napkins or create floral arrangements, I am not your girl…”

What does she teach you? For starters that snacks are not “stressful art projects,” they should be fun and breezy; that a baked potato bar is underrated, especially when you can serve them to friends alongside trout or salmon roe toppings; that a giant pot of pasta is “as crowd-pleasing as it gets;” that you should always have “tangy, briny things” in your pantry (“when you set out a bowl of olives, people will think you are an excellent, extremely put-together host”). In other words, that having people over shouldn’t be a fussy affair. (“Menus stress me out,” says Roman.) We should cook for our friends, make the kind of food we want to eat, not overthink things, and if it’s messy, it’s messy. Does it matter?

The dishes in Roman’s book seem like dishes you’d eat in the kitchen with your close friends who you invited over just that afternoon, the kind that make the house smell warm and welcoming. Exhibit A: this creamy cauliflower. How good does that look?

Creamy Cauliflower and Onion Gratin
Serves 6 to 10

I am one of those people who’d never entertain the idea of replacing carbs with vegetables à la noodles or cauliflower rice, but once this dish was born, I realized I was essentially using cauliflower as a replacement for pasta in this pasta-less version of what reminds me of macaroni and cheese. Believe me, I, too was horrified, but it was so good that I did not and could not care.

This gratin is the easiest and most delicious way to make superlatively tender, creamy, chewy cauliflower without any additional steps (no béchamel, roux, or other fancy sauce required). Bake the cauliflower, covered in the cream, just to cook it through and get it tender then uncover it so the cream can reduce, becoming thick and rich, and the cheese can get all browned and crispy.

1 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2- to 3-pound cauliflower, leafy green parts removed
1/2 small sweet or yellow onion, very thinly sliced
6 ounces Gruyère or white cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 1/2 cups)
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 cups fresh coarse bread crumbs or panko (optional, if you’d like to make gluten-free)
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1/4 cup olive oil (if using bread crumbs)

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Bring the cream, butter, and garlic to a simmer in a small pot over medium heat. Season with salt and pepper and remove from heat.

Slice the cauliflower into 1/2-inch-thick slabs (some of the bits will fall away and crumble into tiny florets; this is fine).

Place the smallest bits of cauliflower on the bottom of a 9-inch pie plate or cake pan (I like the roundness of the pie plates and cake pans, but a 2-quart baking dish f any shape will work). Scatter with some of the onion, followed by some of the cheese. Repeat with the remaining cauliflower, onion, and cheese until all of it is used, ending with the cheese.

Pour the cream mixture over (leave the garlic in or remove), followed by a good sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes, if using.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the cauliflower is tender and cooked through, 2o to 25 minutes.

Remove the foil and continue to bake until the top is bubble and golden and the cream is mostly reduced, another 15 to 20 minutes (it will look slightly runny and creamy in the oven but will set and thicken once you take it out of the oven and let it cool a few minutes).

If using the bread crumbs: Now is the time to put them to use. Combine the bread crumbs, sesame seeds, and olive oil in a medium bowl (alternatively, just use the sesame seeds). Season with salt and pepper.

Scatter the bread crumb mixture (alternatively, just scatter the sesame seeds) over the top and bake until those are deep and thoroughly crispy and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.

Thank you, Alison!

P.S. Alison’s beauty uniform and a winter survival idea: soup group.

(Reprinted from Nothing Fancy. Copyright © 2019 by Alison Roman. Photographs copyright © 2019 by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House.)

  1. Kelsey says...

    So, I bought my ingredients for this tonight at Trader Joe’s and while they don’t sell sesame seeds they do sell “Everything Bagel” spice mix. Such a delicious cheesy cauliflower gratin, I love all of Alison Roman’s recipes, and I highly recommend my modification!

  2. Andria says...

    Not a huge onion fan, has anyone tried with just cauliflower?

    • Stevie says...

      I was noodling on caramelizing some leeks and sneaking those in place of onions. I prefer my alliums well on the other side of a Maillard reaction.
      Otherwise, I suspect leaving them out altogether would probably be fine – maybe add a bit of extra garlic or some celery to make up for the loss of aromatic quality?

      Follow your heart! Be yourself! The gratin is your oyster!

  3. Erin says...

    Cauliflower gratin is one of my very favorite foods and surprisingly rare in cookbooks. Thanks for the recipe; it looks like good one. I’m going to check out the book, too.

  4. Lauren says...

    Not to be off-topic, but can we see an Alison Roman week of outfits?! I can vouch that many people in my life would want to see this as well.

  5. Abbey says...

    This looks so insanely delicious!!!!

  6. Sarah says...

    If anyone tries this recipe and knows how it was would hold up over a few hours, please report back! I want to bring this to Friendsgiving, but am worried it might not shine quite as brightly after it’s lost its delicious, bubbly heat.

    • agnes says...

      you could finish the cooking at your friend’s house! When friends do that at my house, I always love it; it shows they trust me and feel comfortable at my house.

    • emily says...

      I made it last night and it was awesome! We went back for seconds and it was still awesome. You could totally keep it on a couple sternos or in a low oven to keep it warm. I actually had to increase my bake time bc the cauliflower wasn’t tender enough. I reheated it again in the microwave for lunch today for leftovers and it was equally good!!!

      *Note: I went the panko route and added some parm on top, too. I left out the sesame seeds. :)

    • Sarah says...

      Thank you, guys! So helpful! I’m
      always nervous to assume there will be room in the host’s oven for a reheat. But it seems like it’ll be all good either way! Yum!

    • Sarah 2 says...

      I was also hoping to take to a friends-giving Potluck party. I made it last night and left it out for about 3-4 hours and I think it gets better as it cools! We couldn’t stop going back for little bites. I’m going for it for the party! No need to reheat at host’s house.

  7. I love how the recipe itself is written in such a conversational way and anticipating any possible questions!!

  8. Jenny says...

    This looks delicious! How much time does it take? Having an estimate on a recipe helps me figure out when I can give it a try. thanks!

  9. Emily says...

    I made this tonight as a comforting side to accompany grilled mustard-rubbed salmon. It was spectacular! I can’t wait to have it for lunch again tomorrow. The leftovers will be even better! Top notch!

  10. Maggie says...

    Only fancy people think that cauliflower and onion gratin is not fancy!

  11. A says...

    I think you meant *zoodles not noodles

  12. Greta says...

    I’m excited about this cookbook and it’s concept! I wonder though: how is it on vegetarian recipes?

    • Sophie says...

      There are salads and some sides, but not a ton of vegetarian mains (this gratin is rich enough that you could practically have it as a main, maybe with a side salad..) You could leave the meat out of a few pasta dishes, but I would call it a pretty fish + meat heavy book all told.

    • Meg.F says...

      I saw her answer this on an Instagram story…I believe it was around 75% vegetarian but please triple check for your own piece of mind.

    • Amanda says...

      She actually just answered this question on instagram over the weekend and said it is unintentionally 85-90% vegetarian recipes :)

  13. Faye says...

    I love Alison’s recipes and have this cookbook on my Christmas wish list! I’m looking forward to trying this recipe.
    But does anyone else struggle the trend of ….not caring too much or trying too hard? I’m here for unabashedly caring, folding cloth napkins (it’s easy! just fold them in half a few times!), and having fun planning the menu, even if takes away from my cool insta cred ;)

    • MJ says...

      Totally understand what you mean! Those touches can show that you care. But I think her approach is less about being “cool” or “not trying” and more about encouraging gathering and cooking even if you don’t have all the “right stuff”. I think her approach is geared towards people that don’t often host or are young and don’t have cloth napkins or people who aren’t great cooks – she just advocates that hosting and gathering people doesn’t need to be a big ordeal with complicated recipes and you should do it to connect with your peeps even if it’s nothing fancy!!

    • Sarah says...

      I love both forms of entertaining! When I’m at someone’s house and they’ve folded napkins and lit candles, I’m utterly charmed. When they’ve thrown together their favorite go-to dinner and put some paper towels on the table for napkins, I feel free to make myself at home and relax on into the evening! It’s all great, as long as the company is good.

    • Alison says...

      agreed. so much. not a great feeling to feel ‘uncool’ for caring.

  14. Jane I. says...

    I am salivating. Imagine serving this at the thanksgiving table? C’mon what a winner!

  15. a.n. says...

    ohhhhh holy moly, this looks great.

  16. Kelly says...

    Veggie gratins are not just a carb-free mac n cheese replacement, but a time honored classic dish!

    i just made cauliflower gratin for my newly picky 9yo. She sniffed when i told her we were having cauliflower for dinner, but eagerly took several servings of cauliflower gratin, saying “oh, i didn’t know the cauliflower would be like this!’.

    can also add ham slivers if you want!

  17. Maggie says...

    Yum! Obsessed with Alison’s new cookbook (aren’t we all?). One of my girlfriends is coming over tonight to bake the salty chocolatey cookies post-break-up (we baked “THE COOKIES” last year together and it was so fun!). Planning for hot chocolate, some cozy candles & lots of tasty snacks tonight.

    Next thing we need on COJ: Alison’s week of outfits! Loved her beauty uniform on here the other year & she looks so impeccably stylish in all her photos these days.

  18. Christina C says...

    Would be nice to have a printable version when you post recipes. Thanks!

    • Kelly says...

      and a version that links to just the recipe so that it can be easily saved in a recipe app!

    • Sasha L says...

      The Copy Me That app is awesome and I just used it to copy this recipe. It worked great, just grabbed the photo and the actual recipe. I believe you can print from the app if you’d like, and you can open the recipe in the app or in a browser. You can make modifications and file it too.

  19. Jackie says...

    Can’t wait to contribute this amazing-looking dish to a Thanksgiving meal of old (read: blah) favorites!

  20. Robin Hawley says...

    panko is wheat based i thought….

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, you’re right. she’s saying that you could leave breadcrumbs and panko out, if you’d like to make it gluten free. hope that helps!

    • Alec says...

      Ian’s Natural Foods has great gluten-free panko crumbs that I use on everything!

    • Kelli says...

      Trader Joe’s has a gluten free rice panko also.

  21. Rainbow says...

    Oh my lord. I think I have to make this TONIGHT.

  22. Ok, this looks amazing! But as a lifelong vegetarian I baulked at the sentence “acting as a main for vegetarians and a side for the rest of the table” – acting as a main? As opposed to feeding your vegetarian (maybe even vegan!) friends? And with something that’s ‘just’ a main for your meat-eating friends? Oof! Ouch.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      we see your point! changing now, thank you xo

    • I’m going to make this and toss in some cooked farro or quinoa to add a little heft to this vegetarian dish!

    • jrg says...

      @jenny can i ask a legit honest question? why is it bad to say that it’s “acting as a main for vegetarians and a side for [meat eaters]” like, when i have parties with friends with diverse diets, i’ll often ensure that the majority of foods are dairy/meat free and substantial enough to be enjoyed by those who don’t eat meat as a full meal but also can be eaten as a side dish to a roast or whatever i make for the meat eaters. thus, isn’t that providing one dish that is a “main” dish for vegetarians while also being a side dish for meat eaters? that just seems like being a good hostess to me?

  23. anne says...

    I have Alison’s first cookbook which I use all the time, and I cannot wait to get this one. Sadly, I missed the tickets for my local book signing event, but I’m still excited to get my hands on the book!

    Also, I love a Cauliflower cheese. Delicious and perfect winter food, since Chicago has decided that it is important to have snow before it is even Halloween yet. Sigh.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      snow already, wow! it’s been so rainy here in new york and we’re crossing our fingers for clear skies on halloween.

  24. Clou says...

    Sounds easy, cozy, amazing and … well, how aromatic is the cauliflower as it bakes? I love cauliflower but am put off by its lingering perfume in our small apartment. Thank you!

    • P says...

      oh I think with the onions it will smell glorious! But this is coming from someone whose eastern European granddad boiled pig in our small apartment and that smell will forever be etched in my memory as the world’s worst smell.

    • M says...

      I don’t find roasted cauliflower to be a smell issue. Boiled cauliflower is a problem though!

    • CLou says...

      Thank you, M. I will definitely try this.

    • MozartsGirl says...

      Old chef’s tip – if you add a bayleaf (fresh or dried) to the water when boiling cauliflower, it takes away the lingering ‘fragrance!’ I speak as a Brit (and old chef!), for whom cauliflowers are a staple in Autumn/Winter…