Cauliflower and Apple Gratin with Blue Cheese and Cranberries

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Cauliflower, blue cheese and cranberries – oh my! All that I have to do is somehow incorporate raw onion and kidney into the mix, and I’ll have a little something here to offend every palate out there.  Oh shoot.  That’s actually every palate except for mine, because I’d still be pleased as a pig in….her sty.

Truth be told, although I would almost like to think of myself sometimes as a fussy and elitist eater, there are very few things that I can’t bear to ingest.  They include:

– raw organ meats
– raw sea urchin/uni
– thick clumps of salmon roe (the occasional egg is fine)
– insects
– things that should be dead but aren’t…and are about to be eaten….
– things that shouldn’t be eaten but are dead…..and are about to be eaten…..
– roasted red peppers.  Yes, I cook with them.  Always for other people, my friends.  ALWAYS.  The texture reminds me of uni.
– beaks and feet
– cartilage (the chewable kind, not the melted into soup kind)
– anything serpentine or reptilian. I don’t even like them alive, I’m sure as hell not going to have any particular affection when they’re dead.

See?  I can be fussy too.  It’s just that I want to give every fruit, vegetable, meat and comestible a chance, because I’m sure that no matter how foul it looks there IS a way to make it tasty and with a palatable texture.

This is the case with cauliflower.  I grew up loving cream of cauliflower soup as well as curried peas and cauliflower, but loathing and despising steamed or boiled cauliflower florets.  They were just so tasteless, watery and bland.  Learning how to make dishes around roasted cauliflower, however, broke me of that bias.  All of a sudden the flavor becomes slightly nutty, sweet and mild.  Instead of watery, the texture is hearty and rich.  When you combine this “new” conception of cauliflower with blue cheese and cranberries, well, it all just works so lovely-like together.

I know that you’re still not convinced, so here’s one more attempt:  On the kids’ table you would have boiled cauliflower in cheez sauce.  On the adults’ holiday table you have this.  And you can guess which dish will be empty at the end of the night.

At some point before you start scrolling down, I should also warn you that my kitchen seems to have gotten alarmingly dark over the last few months.  At first I was blaming it on bad photography and inattention (note:  this will never quite be ruled out as an option) but then I compared my pictures to last year around this time.  Huh.  They’re equally despicably bad.  So, it appears, the problem is not JUST the photographer, but also the meager lighting.  Truth be told, my kitchen is just excessively dark.  I keep waiting for a mummy with a head lamp to pop out of the cupboards while I’m whisking a vinaigrette. or a colony of bats to start nesting on top of my refrigerator at 6 pm.  The point is, it’s dark.  I’m sorry.  But that’s how it goes.  Please excuse the grainy photographs because they really don’t do this delicious side dish justice.

Cauliflower and Apple Gratin with Blue Cheese and Cranberries

Serves 8 (maybe?) as a side dish

  • 3/4 kg (1.75 lb) cauliflower, or 1 medium head
  • 3/4 kg (1.75 lb) firm apples, or about 4 large *
  • 6 large cloves garlic
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2.5 tbsp butter
  • 5 tbsp flour
  • 125 g blue cheese **
  • 3.5 cups milk ***
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg****
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1.5 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup Craisins (dried cranberries)
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper to taste

* A fairly firm and sweet fleshed (not too sour) baking apple will hold up the best in this dish.  I suggest the same kind of apple that you would use for baking so that it doesn’t have too mealy a texture, does not break down into mush, but one that still has enough flavor.  Braeburn, Pink Lady, Fuji or Empire are all good choices.   If you have a favorite baking apple, use it.

**  Blue cheeses are not all created equally.  That said, when you’re adding blue cheese to a sauce you really want to concentrate on the flavor rather than the texture.  A full bodied Danish or Maytag blue, which tend to be firmer and crumbly, have all the flavor that you need while still maintaining the…uh…affordability aspect.

*** I think that the butter and cheese make this gratin rich enough, but I also only use cream and full fat milk when it’s absolutely necessary.  For this dish, skim milk does just fine.

**** Freshly grated nutmeg is always the best and you’ll also find that 1/4 tsp of fresh nutmeg can sometimes be rather a lot.  This amount is fine if you’re being lazy like me (I couldn’t be bothered to go sifting through my vacuum sealed bags of spices for the nutmeg, um, nuts) but if you’re using fresh you might want to reduce to slightly less.

And yes, you’re right:  there are no bread crumbs in this picture.  Just pretend, okay?

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Preheat your oven to 400ºF and set your racks in the center positions.

Cut the cauliflower into medium size florets and drizzle with 2 tbsp of olive oil and season  them with salt and pepper.  Spread the cauliflower out evenly on a baking sheet.

Cut each apple in half.  Cut each half apple again into quarters (8 slices in total per apple) and use your knife to cut each apple wedge on an angle to slice out the core.  Drizzle the apples with the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil and season them with salt and pepper.

Separate out 6 cloves of garlic from the bulb but leave them with their peel and bottom intact.  Distribute the cloves of garlic among the apple wedges.

Put the cauliflower and apples into the oven to roast for 20 minutes.  Halfway through you want to switch their position and flip each floret/wedge/clove over before they go back in the oven to finish cooking.

In the mean time, melt the butter in a saucepan with fairly high (3″ or thereabouts) sides.  When the butter is melted and just starting to foam, add the flour and whisk it to combine.  Continue whisking the flour and butter together in the pan for about 2-3 minutes or until the color just starts to deepen and turn golden (rather than pale yellow), at which point you will have cooked out the raw flour taste.

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Slowly add 1 cup of milk to the pan, stirring constantly as you do so.  Continue whisking until the mixture is thick before slowly adding the second and third cups.  While you’re adding the milk you want to do it slowly and be whisking steadily to make sure that you’re not going to end up with any lumps or clumps.

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Add the dried oregano, rosemary and dried or freshly grated nutmeg.  Crumble in 1/2 of the cheese and whisk it slowly until it’s combined.

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TING!!!!! At this point, roughly, the cauliflower and apples should be ready to come out of the oven..  The apples will have started to puff the garlic will be golden and easily popped out of it’s shell, and the cauliflower should have some blackened or browned signs of roasting from where it was flipped over.

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Pop the garlic cloves out of their skins (be careful, it’s hot!!) and give them a fine chop.  Add the garlic and dried cranberries to the cream sauce.

Give the sauce a quick taste and season it with salt and a generous grinding of pepper.

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In a medium sized/4L casserole dish (think about 8×12″ with high sides) which has been lightly greased, layer half the cauliflower and apples.  Crumble half of the remaining blue cheese on top and drizzle on about 1/3 of the cream sauce.

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Repeat with the remaining cauliflower, apples and cheese before smoothing on the remaining cheese sauce.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs evenly on top of the casserole and put on the center rack of your oven to bake for 30-40 minutes.

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When the casserole is bubbly and golden brown on top it’s ready.

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Let the casserole sit, tented with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes before cutting into it.  At this point, the casserole will be thick with the decadent and rich blue cheese sauce smothering plump apples, tender cauliflower and juicy berries.

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If you haven’t had blue cheese and cranberries together, well, you’re missing out.  The creamy and musky flavor of the rich sauce is perfectly matched with the sweet homeyness of the apples and the juicy sweet/bitter cranberries.  At this point, the previously dried berries are supple and plump – unbelievably sexy, as far as suspicious side dishes go.  Every now and then cranberries can move from “yeah, they’re okay” to “Unghod, these are…..it’s just…..I want.  Alone.  Now.”  This is one of those times.  I swear, each time a rehydrated and earthily blue-cheesed cranberry bursts in my mouth it’s like a little rush of glee and gorgeousness.

Or, if you’re staunchly opposed to both cranberries and blue cheese (the more pity you!) I suppose this would be your private version of hell.  Oh well, check back in later this week – I’ll make a pot roast and potatoes.  I promise (fingers only barely crossed).

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I wish that Canadian Thanksgiving hadn’t already come and gone, because this would have really been just an ideal add-on to the table.  However, since we’re late (as always) to bring in the prize, the least we can do is supply it in time for American Thanksgiving.  So hey, you Yanks out there, eat up and enjoy!

Psssst – I still haven’t used up the leftover cranberry sauce from our Canadian Thanksgiving….which was 3 weeks ago.  This is fine, of course, because cranberry sauce falls into the same category as cockroaches and Fimo.  Two days after armageddon, all we’re going to find are a series of insects, jewellery crafted by pre-schoolers, and the occasional Thanksgiving side dish.  So….I’ll repurpose that jewel toned sauce soon, and before it gets creepy(er).  I promise.

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  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    It tickles me pink that you have things you don’t like to eat.

    And now, for a moment of smugnosity: I eat roasted red peppers, and you do not!

    I could not be more pleased to have found something that matches this criteria.

    The rest of the list though? Bugh. No thank you.

    And I think tiny little girl Tina, eating her cauliflower soup and other grown-up foods must have been adorable. I think I ate only candy until I was 18, and am still on a 60% candy diet.

  • Beth

    This sounds absolutely divine. It is so going with me to the early Thanksgiving that I’m going to next week.

    Thanks, Tina!

  • Alison

    Ok – to ask this question I need to be out of hitting range, and I definitely am. What other kind of cheese could I use besides the blue? Can you offer any subs for me? Cause I love cauliflower, and love me my apples, but can’t eat anything that smeeeeeeells like rotton, damp socks.

    Hugs and thanks!

  • http://thespitefulchef.blogspot.com Kristie

    Go manchego. That’s what I was thinking.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Kristie – I still consider candy and beef jerky to be a balanced meal. Which is also, perhaps, why “little girl Tina” was never actually little….

    Beth – thank you so much!! If you do end up trying this gratin, please let us know what you think!!

    Alison – I’m not a hitter! An occasional swat, perhaps. I know what you mean because blue cheese is certainly not for everyone. Kristie made a great suggestion with manchego! You want a strong, flavorful cheese but not something which is too gooey-melty. Although this would change the flavor profile of the dish (note: I cringe every time that I read smug Foodie-isms like ‘flavor profile’, but it’s the best descriptor I have right now) you could also try a sharp and well aged grated white cheddar.

  • http://www.erikorganic.com/dining-room/small-kitchen-table.shtml small kitchen tables

    I have been seeing lots of recipes that have berries on it and I don’t actually care because I love berries so much! All of them, from strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.

  • http://food.lizsteinberg.com Liz

    Ooo, I love using fruits in savory dishes! And blue cheese! Going to try this once it actually gets cold over here.

  • Beth

    OK, so I took this to the party and it was a HUGE hit. Seriously, all the leftovers were divided up onto plates so people could take it home. Awesome recipe, Tina. So good and hearty, but not super heavy. Thanks for the recipe.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      Beth, we’re so excited that you tried and enjoyed this recipe!!! Thanks for giving it a shot, and we’re just thrilled that your fellow party-goers enjoyed it as well. Happy holidays!

  • M

    Random update almost a year later: we made this dish for holiday dinner at my father’s house and it was SO DAMN DELICIOUS, I still get cravings for it.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      M – you just absolutely made my night. Thank you for the update. I know that this dish has a couple of acquired tastes in it (blue cheese, sweet with savory, etc) but we love it and are so please to hear that you do as well! Thanks again 🙂