It is never too late to work some cheese into your Thanksgiving menu, especially considering how often it's overlooked as a vital Thanksgiving food group. Sure, there are great appetizers and American cheese favorites that always seem appropriate during this holiday in particular, but rarely does cheese take center stage during the main event, when traditional dishes are studded with either cranberries, pecans, or marshmallows.
This dish is as much about the cheese as about the cauliflower, and refreshingly so for the cheese lovers among us. Before being baked, the cream is enhanced with Parmigiano Reggiano and then reduced down to a thick, luxurious sauce, reveling the spotlight in all its cheesy glory.
With this dish, you're sure to get your cheese fix tomorrow: expect that salty-nutty-sweet-briny flavor that's unique to Parmigiano Reggiano. Use only the best, or an adequate substitute. This recipe truly is all about the cheese. While many gratins include cheese, not many showcase it as a main ingredient, and then further highlight its presence. It's in that one final step of reduction that makes this dish so deeply satisfying. After a 20 minute slow simmer with a generous handful of parm, the base of the gratin thickens and intensifies, amping up the cheese flavor and forming a marvel-worthy coating. It'll soak up your gravy, too.
There's something about the mild vegetal flavor of cauliflower and its floret-laden structure that makes it such an excellent vehicle for a cheese and its sauce, but you could just as easily substitute other vegetables, cruciferous or not. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, romanesco, fennel, kale, or green beans would be just as delicious. If you can, try to get your hands on purple, green, or yellow cauliflower, which adds some color to a traditionally stark white dish.
Additional Thanksgiving Day bonus: This is primarily a stovetop recipe, and it couldn't be easier: bring the cauliflower to just under the point of doneness in the cream, strain and reserve, and reduce the cream with the cheese. You can assemble the gratin early in the day and just finish it off in the oven to crisp the top and make it bubble. You won't be taking up space for other oven-necessary dishes, and your active time will be under a half-hour. And for that I'm very thankful.
• Get the recipe: Cauliflower Gratin with Roasted Chestnuts and Parmesan Cream at Martha Stewart, courtesy of Chef Chris Hastings. While the recipe specifies using small gratin dishes, you could just as easily bake the dish in one larger casserole.
Nora Singley is an avid lover of cheese, and for some time she was a cheesemonger and the Director of Education at Murray's Cheese Shop in New York City, where she continues to teach cheese classes for the public. She is currently an assistant TV chef on The Martha Stewart Show.
(Image: Nora Singley)-