this is one of those recipes that takes a little bit from my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe (
which, yes, someday i will post…posted!) and combines it with this cauliflower recipe that i liked in theory but not so much in practice and kind of jams them together until they vow to play nicely together.
and in the end, of course, this cauliflower and farro gratin doesn’t bear a terrifically strong resemblance to either recipe, but that’s part of the fun, right? that and the dried cranberries; the dried cranberries definitely bring the fun.
my thought process was basically: macaroni and cheese is delicious. not very healthy though. cauliflower is healthier. so is (whole grain) farro. brie is not healthier but sure is delicious. dried cranberries + brie is nearly always a good idea. …let’s do it!
i will say, though, the first version of this cauliflower and farro gratin was unremarkable. i started off keeping the monterey jack cheese that’s in my favorite macaroni and cheese and just topped the gratin with brie. this led to too much heaviness and not enough brie-ness.
i found the gratin was much more to my liking once i ditched the monterey jack and split up the pile of brie, melting some into the sauce and using some on top of the gratin. this even allowed me to slightly reduce the amount of cheese being used overall and making things indistinguishably healthier is one of my little pet passions so, win.
early on i also wasn’t sure about the dried cranberries because, let’s face it, they sound a little strange here. in the first version, i left them out and added a few to half of my dinner once it came out of the oven, and topped the other half with chopped sun dried tomatoes (because i thought i might want to go in a more savory direction). to my surprise, i couldn’t really taste the sun dried tomatoes but the cranberries were clearly a good addition. decided.
from there, it was mostly a matter of figuring out the quantities and proportions (and adding a little dry mustard powder for a very subtle flavor kick, though it’s optional if you don’t have it in your cupboard and don’t want to buy it). aaaand now, here we are, happily enjoying a cauliflower and farro gratin that’s a little of this and a little of that, plus a lot of yum.
- ½ cup (3 1/8 oz. / 104 g.) farro, see notes
- 1 medium head cauliflower (about 17 ½ oz. / 500 g. trimmed), trimmed and cut into bite size florets/pieces
- ¼ cup (2 oz. / 60 ml) olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 4 oz. (about 1 cup / 113 g.) diced mushrooms
- ¼ cup (1 oz. / 30 g.) all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons dry mustard powder, optional
- 1 ¾ cups (14 ¼ oz. / 420 ml) milk (skim works fine)
- 6 oz. (170 g.) brie, cubed
- ½ cup (2 oz. / 57 g.) dried cranberries
- ¼ cup (1 oz. / 28 g.) panko or breadcrumbs
- preheat oven to 375° F.
- cook farro al dente, according to package directions. once cooked, drain and set aside.
- boil a large pot of water. boil cauliflower for 5 – 6 minutes, until softened all the way through but not mushy.
- in a medium dutch oven or large saucepan set over medium heat, heat the olive oil. add the mushrooms and onions and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are golden brown and the onions are soft and translucent.
- add the flour and dry mustard powder (if using). stir constantly for one minute to cook off the raw flour flavor. the mixture should turn slightly golden brown (the color change is very subtle).
- add the milk and, stirring constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. boil for one minute, stirring constantly (the milk at the bottom of the pan is prone to scorching so keep stirring!).
- remove pan from heat and stir in half of the brie until it is fully melted and the mixture is smooth, save for the onions and mushrooms.
- if you’re using a dutch oven, add the farro, cauliflower, and cranberries to the cheese mixture and stir until everything is coated and combined. if your pan is not oven safe, combine the farro, cauliflower, cranberries, and cheese sauce in casserole dish and stir to combine.
- sprinkle remaining brie cubes over the top of the gratin and then cover with a thin layer of breadcrumbs.
- bake uncovered for 25 - 30 minutes, until the top of the gratin is golden brown.
- remove from the oven and let sit for 5-10 minutes (it is so very hot right out of the oven).
farro: there are several different types of farro, the main difference being how the grain is processed (or not), which then impacts the cooking time (and whether the grain requires an overnight presoak). i look for farro that takes around 20 minutes to cook without a presoak but the choice is up to you, just make sure you know which kind you have. it’s often easier to just read the instructions, rather than try to parse the label on the front.