Cauliflower Gratin with Garlic and Sage

At the center of trust, we find surrender. 
Pierro Ferrucci – The Power of Kindness
Hello December! Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving. This year we spent Thanksgiving with our friends out at the Murdoch’s, in Valley Ford Washington.  My friend Jill, who I’ve mentioned here before, created the most amazing “Nordic Thanksgiving Tablescape” which you can take a peek at on my Instagram Feed -if you are curious. Antlers, a woolly grey runner, antique dishes, and candles aglow…adorned the rustic wood table. Sheepskin was placed over her modern chairs, and somehow it all came together brilliantly. This would be a fun way to decorate your table for Christmas.
Creamy Cauliflower Gratin is a luscious side dish that can be coupled with almost any main course. In catering we pair it with grilled beef tri-tip, roasted chicken, braised beef short-ribs and even salmon. Think of this as a substitute for your starch, like potatoes or rice. At home, I often serve it as our “main”, alongside a big salad and call it dinner.  For a more rustic, family style dinner it can be made and baked in a cast-iron skillet.  Or for a more formal affair, elevate it by serving it in individual ramekins like we often do when catering.  It’s a simple dish to make, full of hearty flavors – and will convert even the most die hard cauliflower skeptics. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes! Also, this recipe can easily be made ahead, and can be made vegetarian and gluten free.

Lots of garlic, fresh sage, and caramelized onions give the cauliflower gratin depth and flavor.



A little bacon adds depth and smokiness, but feel free to leave it out entirely- or substitute vegetarian “bacon bits”.


Brown the bacon and set aside. Remember, you can substitute vegetarian “bacon bits”( adding these in at the end) and growing up eating these, I actually really like the flavor, and they add a nice crunch.

When chopping the cauliflower…first slice the head into ½ inch slices…then chop into bite size pieces. This will ensure pieces are cut roughly the same size and will cook at the same speed.

Wipe out the pan and sauté the onions. Add the garlic. Sometimes I’ll double the garlic for an extra boost. When the garlic is golden and fragrant, add the cauliflower and ½ C water, letting the cauliflower steam. Turn heat to medium low and cover with a lid or foil, and let the cauliflower steam for 10-12 minutes.



While the cauliflower is steaming, make the creamy sage bechamel sauce.  I use milk instead of cream and have cut down on the cheese for this recipe.

After draining any excess water, mix the Bechamel Sauce into the cauliflower and mix in the bacon or  vegetarian “bacon bits”. At this point you could refrigerate over night, or bake in the oven until golden and bubbly.

Sometimes, for added texture,  I’ll add breadcrumbs for a crunchy topping. Blend up bread with sage, a pinch of salt and a little olive oil. Sprinkle over the top. This is completely optional, and leave it out if going gluten free.



Another way to serve this could be to use individual mini cast iron skillets… then top each one with your main course, like roasted chicken for example.




Or bake them in small individual  ramekins and serve them alongside your main course for a more formal affair.

However you choose to serve it, it’s hard to revisit a big bowl of this.

~Thanksgiving 2013~


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Cauliflower Gratin with Garlic and Sage
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A flavorful baked cauliflower side dish with garlic and sage
Recipe type: side
Cuisine: northwest
Serves: 6
  • ½ C diced Bacon (optional ) or sub vegetarian "Bacon Bits"
  • 1-2 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Cup sliced red onion or shallots
  • 6-10 garlic cloves, rough chopped
  • 1 Large head cauliflower
  • ½ C water
  • Sage Bechamel Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (or rice flour)
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh chopped sage leaves plus more for garnish
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¼  teaspoon white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • ¼ Cup grated melty cheese- like mozzarella or Gruyere- (plus 3 Tablespoons for the top -optional)
  • ⅓ Cup grated hard flavorful cheese like Parmesan or pecorino
  • ⅓ Cup bread crumbs ( optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. Slice head of cauliflower into ½ inch think slices and chop into bite size pieces. Saute Bacon in a heavy bottom skillet on medium heat until just crisp. Set bacon aside, drain fat and wipe out pan. Saute onion over med- high heat in 1-2 T olive oil until tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, turn heat to med and sauté until fragrant and golden. Add Chopped Cauliflower and ½ C water. Turn heat to med low, cover pan with foil or lid and let steam 12-14 minutes, until water has evaporated and cauliflower is tender. Drain any excess water.
  3. While cauliflower is steaming, make Sage Bechamel. In a small pot, melt butter over medium heat. Stir until butter just begins to become golden and becomes nutty and fragrant. Add flour. Stir and cook flour for at least 1 minute. Whisk in ½ C milk making sure to whisk all the flour from the corners and sides of the pot. Add another ½ C milk, whisking well. When thickened, add final cup of milk, sage, spices, salt and whisk constantly until mixture thickens and just comes to a boil. Turn heat off. Add cheese and whisk until smooth.
  4. Pour Sage Bechamel over the steamed cauliflower (be sure to drain any excess water) and stir it in, coating cauliflower well. Top with crispy bacon (or bacon bits) and few sage leaves and a little more cheese (optional) or bread crumbs ( optional). You could refrigerate overnight at this point if making ahead. Bake in the oven, uncovered until lightly browned and bubbly, about 25 minutes.


  1. says

    Quite an awesome recipe indeed!! I just love studying cauliflower gratin and garlic, sage recipe and that dinning table is also seems great as well. Great photography for happy Thanksgiving day arrangements!!

  2. says

    Made this tonight, and it was delicious AND beautiful. The only thing I’d change is to add to the directions, be sure the cauliflower steams off any excess water before you add the cheese sauce at the end. Mine was just a touch runnier than I wanted. By the way, using mozzarella and Parmesan, 3 slices of bacon, and 1% milk (which still made a wonderful rich sauce), it is 6 weight watcher points per serving. Score!

  3. says

    This looks outstanding! Gorgeous and just full of healthy ingredients! I can see how it would absolutely convert even people who staunchly believed they didn’t like cauliflower! I just discovered your blog from your lovely recipe over on Cooking Quinoa, and I’m so happy I did! What wonderful recipes and beautiful, beautiful photos – so much inspiration here! Pinning this recipe quick, quick! 😀

  4. Anonymous says

    I couldn’t figure out why mine was so runny — in my hurry – forgot to drain. SUPER IMPORTANT. It was actually delicious and looked really nice (with the bacon on top) but once you started scooping – looked awful. However, very tasty! I’m wondering … have you ever steamed the cauliflower and kept the fried onions and garlic separate and then added after? I was wondering how that would taste?

  5. Linda says

    Just an FYI, don’t try to print this recipe. I clicked on the print button, and it started printing all 34 pages! I ended up coping it and pasted it into a document. Hopefully there is a way to fix that :-).

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