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Cauliflower Gratin is a creamy and cheesy casserole dish much like the traditional potatoes au gratin, but with significantly fewer calories. This comforting casserole is seasoned with warm nutmeg and topped with crunchy golden panko breadcrumbs. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

cauliflower gratin with toasted breadcrumbs and garnished with chopped chives in a baking dish.

From scratch, this cauliflower gratin recipe is relatively quick and super easy, ideal for a busy weeknight meal. Plus, it can be made ahead of time for an even more hassle-free dinner!

Potatoes au gratin or scalloped potatoes is a family favorite in most households, especially during the holiday season. While you may never get tired of the classic cheesy potato dish, it’s nice to switch things up occasionally.

This cauliflower casserole is an excellent alternative, has fewer calories, and feels much lighter. Trust me, delicious and creamy cauliflower gratin is sure to be just as much of a hit at your next family dinner or holiday party!

Check out my Buffalo Roasted Cauliflower, Southern Broccoli Cheese Rice Casserole, and Summer Squash and Zucchini Casserole for more comforting side dishes.

ingredients for cauliflower gratin on a table.

Key ingredients & substitutions for Cauliflower Gratin recipe

  • Cauliflower — Obviously, it wouldn’t be a cauliflower gratin without the star of the show—cauliflower, of course. I recommend choosing a large head of cauliflower. You’ll also want to ensure it is free of discoloration or softness.
  • Gruyere and parmesan cheese — While Gruyere acts as the nuttier and creamier cheese, parmesan is bolder and sharper, creating a beautiful balance of cheeses. Gouda, fontina, and Monterrey jack are excellent substitutes if you need to swap out the cheese.
  • Panko breadcrumbs — Panko breadcrumbs are typically crunchier and crispier than common breadcrumbs. However, if you aren’t a fan of panko, you can certainly use your favorite brand of breadcrumbs instead.
  • Flour — You’ll use all-purpose flour to make the creamy cheese sauce for the casserole. For a gluten-free alternative, you could use corn starch instead.
  • Milk — The cheese sauce will also need milk. I suggest using either whole or 2%, or you can substitute the milk with half and half for a richer and creamier sauce.
  • Nutmeg — Warm ground nutmeg enhances the creamy flavors of the cauliflower gratin and brings a comforting element to the dish. Mace or allspice is a good substitute.
  • Kosher salt and white pepper — You’ll add some salt and pepper to season the dish. I like to use white pepper because it’s milder in the heat, but more complex in flavor.

How to make Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole

This Cauliflower Gratin recipe is oh-so-easy and irresistibly delicious. All you need to do is cook the cauliflower, make the creamy cheese sauce, top the casserole with the buttery panko breadcrumbs and bake!

process steps for preparing cauliflower gratin: steam cauliflower florets; make white sauce; stir in cheeses.

STEP 1 | Prep and preheat

Begin this simple recipe by pre-measuring all your ingredients, chopping your cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, and shredding the cheeses.

That way, everything is ready to go! Then, preheat the oven.

STEP 2 | Steam the cauliflower

Next, rinse the cauliflower under cool running water and break it into large florets. Place the florets in a microwave steamer basket with 1/4 cup water.

Cook on high for 4 minutes, until the florets are al dente and can be pierced with a fork. Do your best not to overcook the cauliflower. You’re just steaming the cauliflower to remove the rawness.

tips

  • Get creative! Make the cauliflower gratin as directed, but include some additional ingredients to change things up. Try tossing in some crispy fried bacon, diced ham, caramelized onions, or other bold-flavored cheeses.
  • Al dente is key. Overcooked cauliflower may result in a slightly soggy and mushy casserole.
  • Remove some moisture from the cauliflower by gently squeezing the florets with a clean absorbent cloth or paper towel after you’ve steamed them. This will help to avoid a watery casserole.

STEP 3 | Melt butter and add flour

Now, for the creamy cheese sauce, you’ll need a medium saucepan. Melt three tablespoons of the butter over medium-low heat. Then, use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour and cook for about 1 minute.

STEP 4 | Thicken and season

Next, slowly pour the milk into the pan, stirring constantly. Continue cooking until the mixture has thickened, which may take around 5 minutes.

Sprinkle in the kosher salt, white pepper, and ground nutmeg. Then, give the sauce a good stir until the ingredients are well combined.

process steps for layering cauliflower gratin in a baking dish: add cauliflower and cheese sauce; sprinkle with breadcrumbs.

STEP 5 | Add the cheeses

It’s time to add the cheeses! First, remove the pan from the heat. Toss in 3/4 cup of the shredded Gruyere cheese and all but a tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese (you’ll use the remaining cheese for the casserole’s topping).

Then, stir until the cheeses are completely melted.

tip

  • I suggest shredding the cheese yourself over buying bags of shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheeses tend not to melt as well as the cheese you shred yourself.

STEP 6 | Layer ingredients

Spread a small amount of the cheese sauce in the bottom of a casserole dish, layer the cooked cauliflower on top, and cover it with the remaining cheese sauce.

STEP 7 | Add the breadcrumbs

Finally, you’ll throw together the topping. In a separate bowl, stir the panko breadcrumbs, the remaining cheeses, and a tablespoon of melted butter. Then, sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture on top of the casserole.

STEP 8 | And bake!

Pop the uncovered dish into the oven for about 30 minutes. You’ll know the cauliflower gratin is done when it’s hot and bubbly. Also, the breadcrumbs will be lightly toasted and golden brown.

cauliflower gratin in a baking dish with a spoon and a serving missing.

Frequently asked questions

Can you make this gratin recipe with other vegetables?

You sure can! Get creative and swap the cauliflower for fresh broccoli, green beans, Brussel sprouts, or even asparagus. Honestly, you could try a combination of some of your family’s favorite veggies. Let me know how your experimenting goes—I’d love to hear how you made this recipe your own! Remember to partially cook any vegetables you add to the casserole.

Can you use frozen cauliflower?

If you’re in a pinch, you can use frozen cauliflower in place of the fresh vegetable. In this case, you would skip the steaming step and bake the casserole a little longer than directed to cook the frozen alternative all the way through.
Keep in mind I have not attempted to use a bag of frozen cauliflower for this particular recipe. You may run into a trial-and-error situation. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth a shot!

Is it possible for this recipe to turn out watery because of the cauliflower?

Partially cooking the cauliflower in the microwave and then soaking up some of the moisture should produce a creamy and tender casserole. Skipping this step may lead to a soggy or watery dish, which certainly isn’t the goal.
You can also brown the cauliflower in a pan on the stovetop. Like with the microwave method, be sure not to overcook the cauliflower. You want it to be tender enough to pierce easily with a fork. If you partially cook the cauliflower on the stove, you won’t need to steam or remove the moisture. Instead, browning the cauliflower will handle both the water removal and the cooking.

Is this a good recipe to make ahead when you’re short on time?

With the holidays coming up, it’s helpful to note which dishes can be prepared ahead of time. If you’re like any other cook on Thanksgiving or Christmas, you know how quickly the kitchen can become chaotic.
Make life a little easier by creating this cauliflower gratin early. That way, it’s ready to slip into the oven minutes before serving.
All you need to do is follow the steps and stop when it’s time to top the dish with the breadcrumb mixture. Then, cover the casserole and store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
When you are ready to serve, remove the cauliflower gratin from the fridge about 30 to 45 minutes before and allow it to come to room temperature. Finally, sprinkle the panko breadcrumb mixture on top and bake as directed.

a serving spoon lifting out a spoonful of cauliflower gratin from a casserole dish.

Serving suggestions

You can serve this versatile cauliflower recipe as a side to a delicious entrée or as a meatless meal on its own.

This cauliflower side dish is perfect for serving with tender pork chops, like my Balsamic Pork Chops. It also works well with these irresistible Brined and Roasted Turkey Legs.

If you choose to present the cauliflower gratin as the main dish, try pairing it with my Browned Butter Roasted Asparagus. Or you could keep it light and low on calories with this Chicken Kale Caesar Salad!

For a quick and hassle-free weeknight dinner, serve this cauliflower gratin with easy Instant Pot Green Beans with bacon!

Behind the recipe: Cauliflower Gratin Casserole

Cauliflower is often under appreciated. Only more recently has the culinary world begun to see the enormous value in this highly versatile vegetable.

Cauliflower is like a blank canvas, making it the perfect ingredient to get creative.

Cauliflower can replace rice, potatoes, and other foods for a different and often healthier alternative. For example, you can hardly tell classic mashed potatoes apart from cauliflower mock-mashed potatoes. It’s even used as a gluten-free pizza crust!

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cauliflower gratin with toasted breadcrumbs and garnished with chopped chives in a baking dish.

Cauliflower Gratin

Cauliflower Gratin is a creamy and cheesy casserole dish much like the traditional potatoes au gratin but with significantly fewer calories. This comforting casserole is seasoned with warm nutmeg and topped with crunchy golden panko breadcrumbs.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Course Vegetables & Sides
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Calories

Ingredients
  

  • 1 large head cauliflower
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups milk whole or 2%
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese divided
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese divided
  • 3/4 cup panko bread crumbs

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  • Rinse the cauliflower under cool running water, then break into large florets. Place the florets in a microwave steamer basket with 1/4 cup water. Cook on high for 4 minutes, until the florets are al dente and can be pierced with a fork. Do not over cook.
  • In a medium saucepan over medium low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
  • Slowly pour the milk into the pan, stirring constantly, and continue cooking until the mixture is thickened, about 5 – 6 minutes. Add in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, stirring until combined.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and add 3/4 cup of the Gruyere cheese and all but a tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese. Stir until completely melted.
  • Spread a small amount of cheese sauce in the bottom of a 9×13 inch casserole dish. Layer the cooked cauliflower on top, then cover with the remaining cheese sauce.
  • In a separate bowl, stir together the panko breadcrumbs, the remaining cheeses, and a tablespoon of melted butter. Sprinkle on top of the casserole.
  • Bake uncovered for 30 to 35 minutes, until hot and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are lightly toasted.

Notes

  • Al dente is key. Overcooked cauliflower may result in a slightly soggy and mushy casserole.
  • Remove some moisture from the cauliflower by gently squeezing the florets with a clean absorbent cloth or paper towel after you’ve steamed them. This will help to avoid a watery casserole.
Keyword casserole, cauliflower, cheese
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was.
sheila thigpen in her kitchen

About Sheila Thigpen

Recipe Developer, Food Photographer, Food Writer

Sheila Thigpen is the publisher of Life, Love, and Good Food — a Southern food blog — and the author of Easy Chicken Cookbook and The 5-Ingredient Fresh and Easy Cookbook. After 20+ years in the publishing industry, she retired in 2018 to focus on her own creative endeavors full time. She and her husband live near the beautiful Smoky Mountains and have a precious little granddaughter who has stolen their hearts. As an influencer, Sheila has collaborated with brands like Creamette, Kroger, HERSHEY’S, Hamilton Beach, Garafalo Pasta, OXO, Smithfield, Valley Fig Growers, and more.

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