RECIPE: Christmas Eve Cauliflower

Cauliflower and cheese sauce is a classic combo. I’ve gussied it up a little here by roasting a whole head of the creamy white vegetable slathered in the afore-mentioned cheese sauce. It becomes a bit of a specta­cle, especially when presented to a table of guests. They will ooh and ahh at all of its bubbling golden glory—just like Mom and Dix did when I prepared it for Christmas Eve one year. Stick a small carving knife in the head before you bring it to the table, and they’ll be talking about your dinner party for years! I like to slice the cauliflower at the table and tell guests to help them­selves to wedges. Just be sure that everyone gets some of the sauce. If there’s any left over, I’ll take a slice of bread and dunk it in the skillet, wiping up all of that cheesy, garlic goodness.



1 lemon, sliced
1 head of garlic, cloves smashed
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 medium head of cauliflower, outer leaves removed and core trimmed so it sits flat


Cheese Sauce

2 Tbsp butter
2 ½ Tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup white wine
1 cup milk
½ cup whipping (35%) cream
1 ½ cups shredded extra-old cheddar cheese
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Red pepper flakes

Finishing the Dish

7 whole garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
½ tsp dried thyme







  1. Prepare the cauliflower: Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. The pot needs to be large enough so the cauliflower can float. Stir in the lemon, garlic, 1 Tbsp of the oil, the salt, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Put the cauliflower into the pot with the core facing up. Cover, turn down the heat to medium-low, and simmer until the cauliflower is fork-tender, 10 minutes. Carefully remove the head from the water and drain it in a colander. This step can be done a day in advance. Just cover and refrigerate the cauliflower head until you’re ready to proceed.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  3. Prepare the cheese sauce: Place a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the butter, then stir in the flour so it makes a paste (yes, that would be a roux). Cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the wine, milk, and cream, being careful to scrape along the inside edges of the pot. The sauce will thicken after about 8 minutes or so. Stir in the cheese, mustard, paprika, salt, pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Keep stirring until the cheese is melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and season to taste.
  4. Place the cauliflower head in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet or baking dish. Rub the head with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil and sprinkle with the dried thyme. Pour half of the cheese sauce over top and snuggle in the whole cloves of garlic around the bottom of the cauliflower. Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour over the remaining cheese sauce. Bake, uncovered, until the cauliflower is tender and golden, about 10–12 more minutes.
  5. Cut the cauliflower into wedges and spoon some sauce over each wedge.

Recipe by Renée Kohlman from Vegetables: A Love Story, copyright © 2021 by Renée Kohlman.