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There’s nothing bad about broccoli in a creamy cheese sauce with buttery breadcrumbs on top. Nothing. But it could be better.
It’s hard to put my finger on what’s missing. I think I wanted bigger, more hearty pieces of broccoli when what I ended up with was fragments; more of a broccoli infused cheese sauce than broccoli enrobed in cheese sauce. And that could certainly be my fault. “Bite size” is in the eye of the eater I guess. And it’s possible I over-cooked the broccoli, making it break down into smaller pieces.
The lack of bite from the cheese sauce is my error. At the very last minute I could not find my red pepper sauce (once again illustrated the value of mise en place) so I sprinkled some cayenne pepper in instead. The McIlhenny’s (or Frank’s Red Hot sauce as it’s written) would have probably added just the kick I wanted.
As Kenji points out, broccoli casserole is really just mac and cheese with broccoli (or cauliflower) stepping in for the macaroni. So that’s good. Anytime you replace pasta with a vegetable is admirable, especially in January when we all still care about that stuff. Come March, when winter seems endless and our “commitment” to eating healthier is like an unfunny joke, we’ll be thinking of new ways to get more carbs in our macaroni holes. Mark my words, someone will come up with a pasta sandwich. Dipped in cheese. My money’s on Olive Garden.
Cheesy Broccoli or Cauliflower Casserole, from The Food Lab by J Kenji Lopez-Alt
- 3 slice hearty sandwich bread, crusts removed and torn into chunks (I used 2 odd-man-out hamburger buns from the freezer)
- 1 small shallot, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Kosher salt
- 2 pounds broccoli or cauliflower (or a mix)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 oz. (1 packet) unflavored gelatin
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced or grated on a Microplane (about 2 teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- One 12-oz. can evaporated whole milk
- 1 teaspoon Frank's RedHot or other hot sauce, or more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
- 8 oz. cheese (American, Cheddar, Jack, Fontina, young Swiss, Gruyere, Muenster, young provolone, and/or young Gouda)
- Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Combine the bread, shallot, parsley, 1 tablespoon of the butter and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarse bread crumbs have formed and no large chunks of butter remain. Set aside.
- Bring 4 quarts water and 1/4 cup salt to a boil in a Dutch oven over high heat. Add the broccoli (or cauliflower) and cook until just tender but still with a bit of a bite, about 3 minutes. Drain, spread on a rimmed baking sheet. and set aside.
- Place the whole milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the top. Set aside to soften.
- Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan [or in the now-empty Dutch oven] over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until light golden blond, about 2 minutes. Whisking constantly, slowly add the evaporated milk, followed by the gelatin mixture. Whisk in the hot sauce and mustard and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking occasionally to prevent the bottom from burning. Remove from the heat, add the cheese all at once, and whisk until fully melted and smooth. If a smoother sauce is desired, blend with an immersion blender or in a standing blender. Season to taste with salt and more hot sauce if desired.
- Stir the broccoli into cheese sauce, then transfer to a 13"x9" baking dish or 10"x14" oval casserole. Scatter the bread crumbs evenly over the top. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 25 minutes, rotating the dish once halfway through cooking.
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