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Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Au Gratin

This Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Au Gratin is a delicious vegetable side dish that’s perfect for a holiday, Sunday supper or any occasion…even a weeknight dinner!

Fresh cauliflower florets are steamed and then baked in a rich, creamy cheese sauce and topped with buttery, golden brown, crispy panko breadcrumbs. Yep, it tastes just as good as it sounds!

Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables. I love it raw. I love it cooked. And I really love it when it’s prepared au gratin.

What does “au gratin” mean?

Au gratin is an adjective used to describe an ingredient that has been covered with breadcrumbs and/or cheese, butter or egg and browned (for example, under a broiler). A gratin, therefore, is any dish made in this manner.

The emphasis here is on the browned crust, which means that those of us {raises hand} who always thought that au gratin meant “with cheese” were wrong (although we do have plenty of cheese in this cauliflower gratin).

You can have a gratin without any cheese (for example, regular scalloped potatoes with that lovely browned top are technically a gratin), but you can’t have a gratin without the browned crust.

Which makes sense, since gratin is said to be derived from the French word gratiner, which means “to broil.”

Alternately, it may have come from the verb gratter (also French), which means “to scrape or scratch,” likely referring to the crust that sticks to the baking dish and has to be scraped off (and that some of us enjoy so much we fight for it).

This cheesy cauliflower bake might have a fancy French name, but it’s actually quite simple to make and is so full of flavor. You might even get some cauliflower converts with this one!

Oh, and it’s also a great lower-carb option to au gratin potatoes or even macaroni and cheese!

the ingredients needed to make Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Au Gratin: cauliflower, milk, butter, flour, cheese, bread crumbs, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and parsley

Ingredients You Need

  • Fresh cauliflower
  • Butter
  • All-purpose flour
  • Milk (I use whole milk)
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Sharp white cheddar cheese (or yellow)
  • Plain panko breadcrumbs
  • Chopped fresh parsley (for garnish, optional…but it adds a nice bit of color)

Note: Ingredient amounts are in the recipe card at the end of the post.

Note: The above video is just a brief overview of the steps. The full printable recipe with ingredient amounts and detailed instructions are in the recipe card at the end of the post.

Recipe Tips & Tidbits

  • To save time, start making the sauce while the cauliflower is steaming.
  • I cut my cauliflower into small to medium-sized florets rather than large ones. They should all be approximately the same size so that they cook evenly.
  • If you don’t have a steamer basket to steam your cauliflower florets, you can just boil them until they are crisp-tender. Drain well and allow any excess water to evaporate off before adding so the dish does not end up watery.
  • Cook the cauliflower just until it is crisp-tender. This will prevent it from becoming mushy, as it will continue to cook in the oven.
  • Fresh cauliflower is best for this recipe. You can use frozen cauliflower, but it will have a much softer texture and it will have more moisture, so make sure you drain it really well.
  • For best results, buy a block of cheese and freshly grate it. Pre-shredded cheeses can have ingredients such as anti-clumping agents that could prevent them from melting smoothly, making the sauce have an odd or grainy texture.
  • If the breadcrumbs haven’t gotten as brown as you would like after 30 minutes, you can put the baking dish under the broiler for a few minutes to brown them quickly without overcooking the cauliflower (just keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn!).

Substitutions & Variations

  • Use broccoli, carrots or brussels sprouts instead of cauliflower or do a combination of veggies. Just use 8 cups total, and keep in mind that each one might have slightly different cooking time when you’re pre-cooking them.
  • Try using a different cheese other than cheddar or a combination of cheeses (they should be ones that melt well). Gruyère is another favorite of mine for this dish, either on its own or combined with the cheddar or some parmesan.
  • For an extra-rich sauce, use half milk and half heavy cream.
  • A pinch or two of cayenne pepper added to the sauce for just a hint of heat is also very good.
  • Regular breadcrumbs can be used instead of panko; just know that they won’t have that same awesome crunch.
  • Make it main dish by adding some cubed cooked ham (or just enjoy it as a meatless main dish).
cheesy cauliflower au gratin on a white plate with a fork with the baking dish and salt and pepper shakers in the bacground

Make Ahead, Storing Leftovers, Reheating and Freezing

Make Ahead

To make this dish hours or a day or two ahead of time, follow all the steps in the recipe up to assembling the casserole but don’t add the breadcrumbs (they will get soggy in the refrigerator).

When you’re ready to bake the gratin, remove the baking dish from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to take the chill off. Then add the breadcrumb topping and bake (it may take a little longer than the time stated in the recipe since you are starting with a cold dish and ingredients).

Storing Leftovers

Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days. If you made the dish ahead of time, remember to start counting from the day you made it rather than the day you baked it.

Reheating

Reheat leftovers in a baking dish covered with foil in a 325°F oven until heated through. You can then uncover the dish and put it under the broiler for a few minutes to help the breadcrumbs crisp back up.

You can also reheat this in the microwave (but the breadcrumbs will stay soft).

Freezing

Freezing is not recommended.

cheesy cauliflower au gratin on a white plate with a fork

What to Serve With Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Au Gratin

Honestly, you can serve this cauliflower gratin with just about anything…chicken, turkey, beef, pork, lamb, ham, and even fish.

I love pairing it with my Maple-Mustard Glazed Spiral Ham for Easter dinner, and it’ll definitely be on my menu this year!

I hope you try this Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Au Gratin recipe and love it as much as I do. Thanks for visiting today!

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More Vegetable Side Dish Recipes To Try

If you make this recipe, I’d love to know how it went! Please leave a star rating and comment below. Thanks!

cauliflower au gratin in a white baking dish with a spoonful being taken out

Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Au Gratin

This Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Au Gratin is a delicious vegetable side dish that's perfect for a holiday, Sunday supper or any occasion…even a weeknight dinner!
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Author: Michelle / Now Cook This!
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 6 to 8
Estimated Calories: 371

Ingredients

  • 8 cups cauliflower florets, small to medium
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk, I use whole milk
  • teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt, or to taste (I use kosher salt)
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper, or to taste
  • 8 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, freshly shredded (or yellow)
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • ½ cup plain panko bread crumbs
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish, optional

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Steam the cauliflower florets on a steamer basket set over about an inch of boiling water in a large covered pot until crisp-tender; set aside.
    Alternately, if you don't have a steamer basket, you can boil the cauliflower until it is crisp-tender. Just be sure to drain it well and let any excess moisture evaporate off the cooked cauliflower so it doesn't make the sauce too watery.
    To save time, start making the sauce while the cauliflower is steaming.
  • Melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat (I use a 3-quart saucepan).
  • Once the butter has melted, add the flour and stir until combined and the mixture is smooth; continue cooking and stirring for 1 minute to cook out the raw flour taste (I use a whisk for this).
  • Slowly whisk in the milk; whisk until the mixture is well-combined and smooth.
  • Stir in the nutmeg, salt and pepper.
  • Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes or until thickened.
  • Remove the sauce pan from the heat and add the shredded cheese; stir until the cheese is melted and the sauce is smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning, if needed.
  • Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of an 11×7-inch baking dish.
  • Add the steamed cauliflower to the dish.
  • Pour the remaining sauce evenly over the cauliflower.
  • In a small bowl, combine the 2 tablespoons melted butter and the panko bread crumbs; stir until well-combined.
  • Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the cauliflower and sauce.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are golden brown and crispy.
    If your breadcrumbs are not brown enough after 30 minutes, you can put the baking dish under the broiler for a few minutes to finish browning them without overcooking the cauliflower (keep an eye on them, as they can burn quickly).
  • Garnish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.
  • Serve immediately.

Notes

  • The cauliflower florets should all be approximately the same size so that they cook evenly.
  • Fresh cauliflower is best for this recipe. You can use frozen cauliflower, but it will have a much softer texture and it will have more moisture, so make sure you drain it really well.
  • For best results, buy a block of cheese and freshly grate it. Pre-shredded cheeses can have ingredients such as anti-clumping agents that could prevent them from melting smoothly, making the sauce have an odd or grainy texture.
  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days. See the post for tips on reheating and making ahead.
  • Estimated calories shown are based on 6 servings of about ¾ each. For 8 servings of about ½ cup each, estimated calories are about 278 per serving.
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