21 November 2009


I know I've posted about cooking cauliflower — chou-fleur in French — on previous occasions. But this is the season, so here I go again.

I was at SuperU in Saint-Aignan the other day, and in the produce department there was a huge pile of just about the most beautiful choux-fleurs I have ever seen. Frais de chez frais, comme on dit. The price was pretty low at 1.20 € per head.

Blanched (partially cooked) cauliflower bouquets

When I brought it home, Walt said, now what are we going to with that. He always says I buy too much food at the grocery store — and he's right, I admit it. But I can't resist picture-perfect vegetables, when I know they are going to taste so good.

I should say we are in a feast period right now. Since Walt came back less than two weeks ago, he made a big batch of turkey-sausage chili using fresh tomatoes from our ripening boxes and dried pinto-type beans that we grew in our garden over the summer.

Gratin de chou-fleur aux lardons

Then he made a pan of cornbread to go with it for its second appearance. And he made pumpkin muffins — twice. In the planning stages, we have choucroute garnie — sauerkraut with smoked meats — and we have bought everything for that, including a smoked chicken. And then later this week, we'll roast a leg of lamb. Gigot d'agneau is what we always eat on American Thanksgiving, which, as you probably know, comes this Thursday.

Now, just yesterday a friend invited us for lunch next Saturday. She's going to cook a goose. I don't know how many people she might be inviting. We have been planning to cook a goose for Christmas this year.

Anyway, all that notwithstanding — I hope we can withstand the calories, and I took a long brisk walk with the dog this morning to try to stay ahead of the game — I needed to cook that beautiful fresh cauliflower while it still was... you know what I mean.

Stir-fried onion, bacon, and cauliflower leaves

I could tell the chou-fleur was fresh because the leaves that envelope the head were so pretty — a nice pale green, and unblemished. I've always heard or read that you can eat those leaves, so this time I cut them off, chopped them up, thick white ribs and all, with a big knife, and cooked them in a skillet with some butter, white wine, and salt and pepper.

The cheese sauce

While those were cooking, I cut up the cauliflower into big florets, and I chopped an onion. Then I sauteed the onion with a package of lardons (smoked bacon chunks) and added the cooked chou-fleur leaves to that. It made a nice stirfry. Separately, I blanched the cauliflower florets in a big pot of boiling water, with salt, just for three minutes, and then let them cool in a bowl so the residual heat would keep tenderizing them. Don't cook them long or they will develop that smell we know so well. At that point, they are ruined.

Arranging the cauliflower on the aromatic base

I put the stirfried vegetables and bacon in the bottom of a big baking dish and arranged the partially cooked bouquets de chou-fleur on top of it. Then it was time to make a sauce béchamel — three tablespoons of butter melted in the pan the vegetables had cooked in, with three tablespoons of flour added. Stirred until it becomes a thick paste. And some milk and some of the cauliflower blanching liquid added alternately and stirred in until it made a nice thick sauce. Add the liquids slowly, half a cup at a time, and stir to smooth out the sauce.

Cheeses for the sauce

Into that some cheese: I had half a pound of mozzarella and some so-called Swiss cheeses, which were actually French Comté and Emmenthaler. Jack, cheddar, etc., would be good. Cut them into little cubes and melt them into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower.

The gratin sauced and cheesed, ready for the oven

Sprinkle the top with more grated Swiss cheese. Bake at 350ºF until the top starts to brown and the sauce is bubbling in the baking dish. Let cool slightly and eat. 'Tis the season.


  1. great looking dish!

    thanks for comments on SlowTrav on Massif Central and your great blog writeups on the area!

    we would like to fly into CDG and then take a train to Colmar to revisit the Alsace - then maybe we could take a leisurely day to drive to the Massif area for a week before taking a train back to Paris

    think this is too agressive and wasting time driving? was also considering Alsace 4 days, Champagne region 2-3 days and then a week in Paris.

    thanks Dale

  2. as a treat for myself i am having cauliflower au gratin for thanksgiving.....the treat part is that i bought a hunk of gruyere for the cheese sauce, which is so pricey here .....i know other cheeses r fine, but love the gruyere....

  3. When the weather turns cold, it is time to indulge in great food. What souvenir this gratin de choux fleur brings. I agree with you Melinda. I love gruyere in any dish (even pizza). It is so tasty , you don't have to use as much as a blender cheese.

  4. Delicious looking!
    I think that, for Thanksgiving, we are going to make the yellow-squash gratin that you described in September '08. We're looking forward to it!


  5. OG! as I am getting older and only after 30 years in the US, I am still making mistakes. "What memories does the chou-fleur bring". Not souvenir and chou (without an x). I have to either read more french books or go back to France more often. May be the first option makes more economic sense, though not as rewarding. I do apologize for my spelling mistakes (in french or english).

  6. Perfect comfort food for the time of year and the depressing weather.
    It sounds like you really are going to have a feast this coming week.

  7. Nadège, remember you are bi-lingual. That means you have to shuffle from one language to the other most of the time. Not to mention the syntax specific to each one. So mistakes happen. Not too many commenters on whatever blogs are fluent in two or more languages. Cheer up! LOL

    I must add texting has ruined good spelling for ever. MDR

  8. I was checking out some pictures from Montréal and saw one in which a guy at the market was selling colored cauliflower. Blue, Red, Orange....have you seen anything like that in France?

  9. Maybe it's like green carnations for St. Patrick's Day?

  10. Merci Monsier Charles Henri. Il fait beau sur la cote donc j'imagine qu'il doit faire tres beau dans le desert aussi. J'ai travaille sur un film en l'an 2000 et nous etions a Yuma et ensuite a Borrego Springs. C'etait tres joli, surtout au printemps. Mes beaux parents habitaient a Palm Springs avant de demenager a Kauai.
    J'aime beaucoup.

  11. Hello Dale, according to Google maps, the drive from Colmar to Le Puy-en-Velay takes around six hours. That could be a good day of driving if you don't mind and take your time. I was only in the Massif for three days and saw and did a lot, as you can see from my blog. Salers is a little farther that Le Puy and in the Massif the roads are often twisty.

  12. Starman, all the cauliflower I've seen in France has been white.

  13. Ken, my stomach's cramping and my mouth's watering...! I am definitely going to cook same this coming week!


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