Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don't Judge a Book By Its Cover - Cauliflower and Ham Casserole

I’ve been on the fence about whether or not to post today’s recipe. Mostly because of the way it looks.

See, if I try to shoot it before cutting it open, it looks like a perfectly nice, comforting, but unfortunately anonymous cheesy casserole. It could be anything hiding under that layer of cheese.

However, if I try to photograph it after cutting a piece out, it looks like… Well, it looks like this. And I don’t think I need to tell you what else it resembles, I think it’s crossed all of your minds.

So, lesson learned: it’s pretty much impossible to make this cauliflower casserole look good on a picture. Trust me, it looked even worse when served on a plate. And closeups? Forget about it. It’s just not a photogenic dish. I could lose the béchamel on the bottom layer, which would make it less liquid and less… un-food-like-looking; but then I would lose all the creaminess and richness. Although in all fairness, I added too much milk to my sauce: there shouln't have been that much liquid. Another lesson learned.

However, in spite of its appearance, this casserole is pretty great. It’s a one-dish meal, with all the vegetables, protein and calcium you’ll need for dinner. Running some ham through a food processor and adding it to the sauce really boosts the flavour.

So, for once, don’t look too much at the picture. I can guarantee that the smell of this baby coming out of the oven will make you forget all about its looks.

Cauliflower and Ham Casserole

Serves 4-6

2 heads cauliflower
5 medium slices of ham
80g (3 oz, 3/4 cup) smoked cheese, grated (e.g. mozzarella or Jarlsberg)
80g (3 oz, 3/4 cup) cheddar cheese, grated
4 tbsp flour
A pinch of nutmeg
Milk, as needed
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF)

Wash and cut the cauliflower into fairly thick florets. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the cauliflower, until al dente. Drain and dunk into cold water to cool. Once cooled, pat dry with a clean towel or paper towels. Reserve.

Run the ham through a food processor, until it is cut very thin, almost crumb-like. Reserve.

In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to brown. Whisk in milk gradually, a little at a time, until your béchamel sauce has acquired a smooth, but still rather thick consistency (it will liquefy more in the oven).

Toss in the ham and cheddar with the sauce and stir to combine. Add the cauliflower and coat the florets with the sauce. Season with pepper (salt will probably not be necessary, given the ham and cheese.)

Transfer the mixture to a casserole or baking dish, in an even layer. Sprinkle with the smoked cheese. Bake, uncovered, for about 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.


  1. Hi,

    Love the combo...Looks so delish...:)


  2. Haha love the title...not because of the picture but because of the dish itself. OK not a huge cauliflower fan. But yes dripping in bechamel, ham and sauce it would be great.

  3. Okay, I will look at the first picture and visualize in my mind all the good things underneath, how about that?

    Delicious as it is, that is the importance!

    Sawadee from Bangkok,

  4. I love cauliflower and cheese, so I don't care what it looks like! Actually, this looks really good to me. I know what you mean though, as I have photos I haven't posted yet, as they just don't look very appetizing.

  5. I love cauliflower so I'm very much liking that dish!

  6. No matter what it looks like to you, it looks delicious to me!! And if it is any consolation; I have been present at a photoshoot for a cookbook in which the foodstylist struggled enormously with creating a similar dish. It just did not want to look pretty at all and this was a guy who had some pretty impressive experience in making food look good, so I would say; you did a good job!

  7. MMMMMMMMMMMMMM,..It also looks so tasty to me, Valérie!!!

    I love cauliflower + Béchamel sauce + cheeses,..yummie!

  8. Val..I completely dig cauliflower, and in a casserole with ham? YUM! I was drooling over the rolls above, but this actually caught my eye because my Mom used to make something like it when I was a kid. I think I need to make this soon :) Hope you're doing well, soon to be MRS. :D