If you've never met a loaded baked potato you didn't like, you're about to meet your new favorite dinner casserole. It's inspired by loaded potatoes, but calls for roasted cauliflower as the base. The florets are drenched in a creamy cheddar cheese sauce, mixed with plenty of crispy bacon bits and chopped scallions, and baked until bubbly and golden.
Loaded Cheesy Cauliflower Bake: Watch the Video
A Decadent Vegetable Bake That's Loaded with Good Things
Decadent isn't often a word used to describe vegetables, but the rules change when cheese sauce gets involved. If you have any cauliflower naysayers at your table, this dish will likely keep them quiet. While it's a great side dish next to roast chicken or steak, where I love it most is at the center of the plate. It's hearty enough to be a main — thanks to all the cheddar and bacon — and really needs no more than a crisp green salad on the side to call it a winning dinner.
Loaded Cheesy Cauliflower Bake
Serves 6 to 8
Prep time: 10 minutes ; cooking time: 1 hour
medium heads cauliflower (about 3 pounds total), cut into bite-size florets (about 12 cups)
freshly ground black pepper, divided
strips bacon (about 8 ounces)
1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups
grated sharp white or yellow cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
medium scallions, thinly sliced, divided
grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
Arrange a rack in the top third of the oven (about 6 to 8 inches from broiling element), and heat to 425°F.
Place half of the bacon in a large skillet over medium-low heat and cook until the fat has rendered out and the bacon is crispy, flipping halfway through, about 10 minutes total. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off the fat into a heatproof bowl and set aside. Repeat with cooking the remaining bacon. Once cool, crumble the bacon into small pieces. Meanwhile, roast the cauliflower.
Place the cauliflower florets in a broiler-safe 9x13-inch or other 3-quart baking dish. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the reserved bacon grease, season with the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper, and toss to coat. Arrange in an even layer and roast until just tender and beginning to brown, about 25 minutes.
Add 2 tablespoons of the reserved bacon to the now-empty skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle with the flour and whisk until fragrant, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking constantly so that it doesn't clump. Switch to a wooden spoon and continue cooking the sauce, stirring constantly, until it has noticeably thickened and coats the back of the spoon, 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the cheese one handful at a time, stirring until melted and smooth. Stir in the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and carefully toss to evenly coat the florets. Sprinkle with the half the bacon and half the scallions, and gently toss again.
Bake until the sauce is bubbling, 5 to 7 minutes. Turn on the broiler, sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top, and broil until the top is golden-brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining bacon and scallions before serving.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.