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This recipe is so good I’ve only made it once before. I know, that sounds like a contradiction, but if I made this more often I would EAT it more often! It is a wonderfully decadent side dish for holidays, entertaining, or after a long day of playing (read: burning lots of calories!) in the snow. 🙂  It can be made a day ahead and baked before serving, which is also perfect for all of the above occasions.

Andy and I first discovered Manchego cheese at an amazing Tapas restaurant in SoHo, Hong Kong. It was New Year’s Eve, we were newly engaged, we were with my best friend and her husband, and we were back in Hong Kong after too many years away. I don’t know if all that nostalgia played a part in our feelings for this cheese (I’m sure the good wine didn’t hurt either!) but we were instant fans! I used to have to drive 45 minutes to Tony Caputo’s in downtown Salt Lake to get my hands on it. However, last Christmas Costco greatly expanded their cheeses and I was thrilled to discover Manchego so conveniently available.

With a Costco-size hunk of Spanish deliciousness in hand I decided I needed to find a good way to use it…aside from just eating it with a really good bread. This recipe is what I found and before long I had the perfect excuse to try it out. Every year in January our church rents out Soldier Hollow for an afternoon of tubing fun (like sledding but with innertubes for any of you who, like me, did not grow up in the snow.) Last January we were invited by some friends to come over to their house afterwards for dinner and hot tub. They had recently bought a cow from a local rancher so they had good, grass fed, steaks to grill. I brought this dish along to share. This was the perfect meal to have after hours of playing in the snow! Porcini mushroom crusted steaks, grilled asparagus, and Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego Almond Sauce.

The almond sauce in this is genius and marries so well with the Manchego. A touch of fresh nutmeg adds a warm background flavor that no one can quite put their finger on and the smoked Paprika is the perfect finishing touch. This will make a mess of your kitchen but both the flavor of this dish and the fact that it can be made a day ahead make up for the fact that you’ll be washing a couple of extra dishes.

Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego Almond Sauce*

  • 3/4 cup half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup whole roasted almonds with skin, plus 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped almonds (3 ounces)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely shredded Manchego or other mildly nutty semi-aged sheep’s- or cow’s-milk cheese (3 1/2 ounces), such as Gouda
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • One 2-pound head of cauliflower, cut into 1 1/2-inch florets
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon Pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a small saucepan, heat the half-and-half until steaming, then transfer it to a food processor or blender. Add the 1/2 cup of whole almonds and process until finely ground. Let stand for 10 minutes. Strain the half-and-half through a fine sieve set over a bowl, pressing on the almonds to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the ground almonds.
  2. In a medium saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the flour and whisk over moderately high heat for 1 minute. Add the milk and the half-and-half and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add 3/4 cup of the Manchego and whisk until melted. Whisk in the nutmeg; season with salt and pepper. Keep warm.
  3. In a large skillet, bring 1/2 inch of salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower, cover and cook over high heat until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain the cauliflower in a colander. Wipe out the skillet.
  4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add the onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and cook, stirring until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Transfer the cauliflower to a 7-by-10-inch glass or ceramic baking dish and spread the Manchego sauce on top.
  5. Sprinkle the gratin with the remaining cheese, the 2 tablespoons of chopped almonds and the paprika and bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, or until bubbling and browned on top. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.
MAKE AHEAD The gratin can be prepared through Step 4 and refrigerated overnight. Bring it to room temperature before baking.
*This recipe is by Grace Parisi on foodandwine.com.