The title of this pretty much says it all. This can be made in advance, but bring it to room temperature before reheating, and put it on the top shelf if at all possible, and hold off on sprinkling the top with the bread crumbs (small cubes of bread also work nicely with this) until just before reheating. ;o) —AntoniaJames
Test Kitchen Notes
This gratin has a crunchy topping, while the cauliflower stays deliciously tender. Bacon-y flavors and herbed cheese really come through in every bite. I used dried marjoram and thyme, and it came out wonderfully. I would advise using bowls for mise en place before beginning to cook it, as it will make your life, and this dish, that much easier. The results are very good -- fancy enough for a holiday gathering! —Carolyn Z
4 - 6
bread crumbs, freshly made from bread that's a few days old (artisanal or sandwich, whatever you have)
slices really good bacon
small cauliflower, including core and stems
chopped fresh marjoram leaves
cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
Tiny pinch of ground cloves
sharp feta, crumbled
ricotta, preferably homemade
fresh thyme leaves
chopped Italian parsley
Black pepper to taste
finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano
Butter for the gratin dish (and an extra 2-3 tablespoons for the topping, if you are making this well in advance)
In This Recipe
If you are making breadcrumbs for this dish, do it now and set them aside, but don’t bother to wash out the bowl of your food processor.
Heat your oven to 375 degrees F and generously butter a medium large gratin dish. (If it's a bit on the large size, all the better. This will allow for more crispy crumbs on the greater surface area!)
In a large skillet for which you have a good tight lid, cook the bacon over medium heat until it’s a nice mahogany color. Drain the slices on a paper towel and pour off all of the fat, except about 1 tablespoon, into a small bowl or jar. Keep it near the stove, as you’ll need it soon. Do not wipe out the skillet.
While the bacon is cooking, prepare the cauliflower by cutting off the florets. Keep them separate as you cut the stems into one-inch pieces. They are more dense, requiring more time to soften, so they need to be cooked separately at first.
Once you've removed the bacon, put the cauliflower stems into the skillet, given them a good stir, add a pinch of salt, and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, for a few minutes. Add a little water – about ¼ cup – and put the lid on. Set your timer for 4 minutes, but check about half way through, stirring the stems around just a bit and putting the cover back on without delay. They should be getting a light brown glaze from the bacon drippings and small bits left in the skillet. If the pan seems too dry, add a bit more water but immediately put the cover back on.
After another minute or so, add the cauliflower florets, garlic, cloves (garlic's best friend) and fresh marjoram; stir well. Add ½ cup of water and cover the skillet. Let it cook for about five minutes, checking quickly after 2, and adding a bit more water if it seems dry.
While the cauliflower is cooking, cut the cooled, crisp bacon into ½” squares. After the cauliflower has cooked for 5 minutes, remove the lid. If there is a lot of liquid in the bottom, reduce it by turning up the heat to cook it for a minute or so, stirring frequently.
Set aside 12 or 15 of the larger floret pieces. This is optional. I like a bit of textural variety in dishes like this, but if you want to skip this detail, that’s fine.
Put all of the remaining cooked cauliflower, garlic, cloves and marjoram into a food processor, scraping the skillet well to get all of the little pieces. Pulse firmly five or six times. Scrape down the sides and pulse a few more times. You want to mash it all up well, but not to make a puree. Allow it to cool for a few minutes, stirring occasionally to facilitate that.
Heat the skillet over a medium flame and pour at least two tablespoons of bacon fat back into it. Add the bread crumbs and cook for about a minute, stirring constantly to coat well. Add about 2/3 of the bacon pieces and stir well to incorporate.
In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, feta, ricotta, cream, thyme, nutmeg, parsley and black pepper, along with the remaining 1/3 of the bacon pieces. Add the mashed vegetables from the food processor and stir well to combine. Gently fold in the reserved florets.
Pour into the gratin dish; then sprinkle with the grated parmesan. Cover with the bacon-y bread crumbs.
Bake on the middle shelf of your oven for 30 – 40 minutes, until the bread crumbs are a nice toasty brown. (If baking well in advance, so that you'll be refrigerating the dish, don't sprinkle on the bacon-y bread crumbs. Cover tightly with a lid or foil. Bake for about 30 minutes and let cool covered. Bring to room temperature before baking; sprinkle on the bread crumbs, bake in the upper third of your oven until the crumbs are brown. I usually drizzle extra butter on the crumbs, to help with the browning.
When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)