Cheesy Baked Cauliflower

Side DishCasseroleComfort FoodCauliflowerCheese

Low carb and utterly delicious, this quick and easy cheesy cauliflower casserole makes a decadent holiday or weeknight dinner side dish. Keep it simple with tender florets and a rich cheese sauce, or load this cauliflower bake with bacon and minced chives.

Photography Credit: Coco Morante

A simple casserole of creamy, cheesy cauliflower makes a sumptuous holiday or weeknight side dish served alongside roasted chicken, pork chops, or steak! Tender, bite-sized florets are covered in a decadent cheese sauce, packed with cheddar and Monterey jack.

To make this a loaded baked cauliflower recipe, add crumbled bacon and sprinkle with chives, and stir in a cup of chopped ham, chopped spinach, or both. To add some texture, top the casserole with buttered panko breadcrumbs. You can keep this cheesy cauliflower dish quick and easy or dress it up with all the fixings. It’s up to you!

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WAYS TO ADAPT CAULIFLOWER CASSEROLE

I like to keep things simple, but that also means I’m prone to using what’s on hand. You don’t have to stick with only cauliflower for this dish.

A mix of cauliflower and broccoli is one of my favorite combinations. You can also sub in an entirely different vegetable for the cauliflower. Any lightly roasted, blanched, or steamed vegetable will work well. Brussels sprouts, green beans, and broccoli are all great options.

You can even use frozen vegetables—just cook them according to package instructions, and drain off any excess liquid before you combine them with the sauce.

The cheeses are as easy to substitute as the vegetables. Pretty much any melting cheese—the kind you use in grilled cheese or mac and cheese will work.

I like to use one sharp and one mild cheese to get a balanced flavor. Feel free to use all one type of cheese if you like, and that flavor will really come through. Avoid using soft, spreadable cheeses like brie and camembert, as those will tend to make the sauce too oily.

These are all good choices:

  • Colby
  • Medium or mild cheddar
  • Swiss
  • Gruyere
  • Fontina
  • Provolone
  • Havarti

Scooping Easy Cauliflower Bake out of a glass casserole dish.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE CREAMIEST CHEESE SAUCE

This sauce is pretty foolproof, and it shouldn’t break on you, since it is cooked very gently (it barely comes up to a simmer) and it contains plenty of flour and cornstarch to keep it stable.

Just keep a watchful eye, whisk continuously, and remove it from the heat right when it thickens up, and it will turn out perfectly every time. You can even use a probe thermometer to guide you, removing the pot from the stove when the sauce registers at 200ºF.

Grate the cheese yourself rather than buying it pre-shredded. This is one case in which a convenience ingredient will actually do more harm than good.

The anti-caking agents used in pre-shredded cheeses tend to do funny things to the texture of cheese sauces, making them gloppy and gooey. You’ll get much better results if you grate your own.

HOW TO MAKE CHEESY CAULIFLOWER BAKE AHEAD OF TIME

This casserole can be assembled up to one day in advance, then baked just before serving.

If transferring the casserole directly from the fridge to the oven, you’ll need to bake it for a few additional minutes. Just test with a fork or probe thermometer to make sure it’s piping hot in the middle (about 170°F).

  • To Freeze: Once cooked, you can freeze individual servings of this casserole in small resealable containers.
  • To Reheat from Frozen: Microwave on high for about two to three minutes, depending on the wattage of your microwave. Let it sit for a minute or two after removing from the microwave to allow the temperature to even out, then enjoy!

Overhead view of Best Cheesy Cauliflower in a casserole dish with a blue dish towel under it.

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Cheesy Baked Cauliflower Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Cooling time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6-8

Ingredients

  • 2 large heads (10 cups) cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces Monterey jack cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Method

1 Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 400°F (set it to convection if you have it).

2 Prepare the cauliflower and casserole dish: Butter a 2-quart (8-inch square) casserole dish. Toss the cauliflower with oil in a large bowl, then spread it on baking sheet in single layer. Roast the cauliflower for 20 minutes, until it is just barely tender and a little bit browned.

A square glass casserole dish is buttered to make Cheesy Cauliflower. Chopped cauliflower slightly roasted in a baking sheet to make Vegetarian Cauliflower Casserole.

3 Coat the cheese in cornstarch: In a medium mixing bowl, toss together the cheddar cheese, Monterey jack cheese, and the cornstarch. Measure out 1/2 cup of the cornstarch-coated cheese and set it aside for topping the casserole.

A metal mixing bowl has shredded cheese and cornstarch to make Vegetarian Cauliflower Casserole.

4 Make the cheese sauce: In a large saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook for about 1 minute, whisking constantly, just to combine the butter and flour completely and cook out the raw flour taste a bit—you don’t want the roux to brown or cook all that much yet.

In a thin stream, pour in the milk and cream, continuing to whisk constantly to prevent lumps. Let the sauce come up to a simmer, about 3 to 4 minutes, then turn the heat down to medium low, and simmer just until the sauce begins to thicken. Turn off the heat.

Whisk in the grated cheese, salt, paprika, garlic powder, pepper, mustard powder, and turmeric, until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is smooth.

Butter and flour are in a saucepan to make a roux for Baked Cheesy Cauliflower. Milk is brought to a simmer in a saucepan on the stove to make Easy Cauliflower Bake. Shredded cheese and spices add to the saucepan to make the Best Cheesy Cauliflower. Whisking a cheese sauce in a saucepan on the stove to make Baked Cheesy Cauliflower.

5 Combine the cauliflower and cheese sauce: When the cauliflower has finished roasting, transfer the florets to a large mixing bowl. While the cauliflower is still piping hot, add the warm cheese sauce and gently fold to combine, until all of the cauliflower is coated with the sauce.

Cheese sauce poured over chopped cauliflower to make Easy Cauliflower Bake. A metal bowl with Vegetarian Cauliflower Casserole being stirred together.

6 Transfer the cauliflower to the casserole dish: Pour the sauced cauliflower into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle the reserved 1/2 cup of cheese on top.

Melted cheese covers cauliflower in a glass casserole dish to make the Best Cheesy Cauliflower. Shredded cheese tops a casserole dish with Baked Cheesy Cauliflower inside.

7 Bake: Bake the casserole for 15 minutes, just until the cheese on top is bubbling and the cauliflower is piping hot all the way through.

8 Serve: Let the casserole rest for 10 minutes before spooning onto serving dishes. Serve warm.

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Coco Morante

Author of The Essential Instant Pot Cookbook and The Ultimate Instant Pot Cookbook. A self-taught cook and classically-trained soprano, Coco Morante writes and sings in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she lives with her husband and their beagle. For more recipes, visit her blog, Lefty Spoon.

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2 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. ML

    Can you make ahead and heat before serving?

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Scooping Easy Cauliflower Bake out of a glass casserole dish.Cheesy Baked Cauliflower