If you want to see me all riled up, casually mention that you don’t care for Thanksgiving food. WHAT?! HOW?! We must fix it, starting right now with Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole!
Last week at dinner, one of my girlfriends casually mentioned that she didn’t like Thanksgiving food. I was part shocked, part saddened, and entirely determined to change her mind. Surely, she must have been eating the wrong food. After all, I’m picky about my Healthy Green Bean Casserole and Instant Pot Mashed Potatoes. Serve me dry turkey or a ho-hum side, and I’m likely not to enjoy Thanksgiving food either.
Serve me healthy Cauliflower Casserole, and I’ll happy devour my plate on Thanksgiving Day or any day.
This Cauliflower Casserole with bacon is not only worthy of Thanksgiving, one of food’s biggest days of the year, but it’s also a side dish I plan to make for future dinner parties and date nights. It’s easy to prepare and offers that sought-after WOW factor from the first bite.
Cauliflower Casserole with Bacon and Cream Cheese—A Side the Whole Table Will Adore
With tender, caramelized, roasted cauliflower florets interlaced with indulgent, melting pockets of cream cheese, gruyere, and crispy bacon, this loaded cauliflower casserole can’t help but win affection (and second helpings) from Thanksgiving traditionalists and non-traditionalists alike.
Cauliflower Casserole has all of the qualities of a respectable holiday side.
- It’s indulgent, though as you’ll see, this is a healthy cauliflower casserole relative to the competition.
- It can be scaled up for a large crowd or halved for a smaller one.
- The ingredients can be prepared in advance, a key to protecting your sanity the day of the feast.
- It pairs well with the other sides on the plate, though don’t be surprised if this one turns out to be the reigning fave.
My inspiration for this recipe is a mashup of two classic comfort food recipes: cauliflower au gratin and loaded baked potatoes.
Like a cauliflower gratin, this cauliflower bake is rich, cheesy, and makes you question whether or not it actually contains vegetables.
Like a loaded baked potato, it’s filled with the good stuff: Greek yogurt (my healthy swap instead of a cauliflower casserole with sour cream), bacon, chives, and cream cheese.
Unlike both of these classic side dishes, however, loaded cauliflower casserole is something that your guests might not have seen before. It’s easy to adapt to different flavors and ingredients, gluten free, and relatively hands-free for you, the cook.
How Do You Make Cauliflower Bake? (The Easy Way!)
- I started this healthy Cauliflower Casserole with roasted cauliflower. For maximum ease, I cooked it in the same baking dish that I used for the final casserole; no need to wash in between.
- For flavor, I relied on the caramelized notes from the roasted cauliflower itself, along with go-to spices: McCormick Black Pepper and McCormick Garlic Powder. The black pepper kicks up the cauliflower and jives with the bacon. The garlic powder saves me the fuss of actually chopping garlic. At the holidays especially, I’ll take all of the quick help I can get, and garlic powder can be a real time saver.
- To keep the cauliflower casserole as low maintenance as possible, I skipped the classic gratin white sauce in favor of a blend of cream cheese, Greek yogurt, and shredded cheese that I dolloped over the top. The cream cheese blend warms in the oven and envelops the tender florets with mouthfuls of decadence.
As a nod to classic gratin ingredients, I used gruyere for the cheese and added a pinch of McCormick Ground Nutmeg. If you’d like a look at How to Make Cauliflower Au Gratin the traditional way, check out my Brussels Sprouts Gratin recipe, which would work nicely with cauliflower, too.
How Do You Make Loaded Cauliflower for Different Diets?
- For those with dietary considerations, this is a low carb cauliflower casserole.
- It *might* be a keto cauliflower casserole, but I’m not as familiar with the specifics of that diet, so I would recommend checking other resources if that is a priority for you.
- This Cauliflower Casserole is naturally gluten free.
- Making the Cauliflower Casserole vegan would honestly be difficult. Since there are few ingredients, each is important, and I’m not as comfortable with the dairy-free options in this case. Instead, I’d look for a recipe that’s already vegan, like my Mashed Cauliflower Colcannon (so good!) or Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole.
How Do You Make Cauliflower and Cheese Casserole with Different Flavors?
I adore this healthy Cauliflower Casserole just as it is, AND I adore the different delicious spinoffs it can create. A few ideas:
- Fully Loaded Baked “Potato” Cauliflower Casserole: Swap the gruyere for sharp cheddar and the nutmeg for cayenne.
- Parmesan and Herb Cauliflower Bake: Swap the gruyere for fontina, add 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme to the cauliflower prior to roasting, and top the final casserole with chopped, fresh parsley. Bacon optional…or not.
- Italian: Swap the gruyere for shredded provolone or mozzarella, omit the nutmeg, and add 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning + a pinch of red pepper flakes to the cauliflower prior to roasting.
If different flavors appeal to different members of your family (or you simply can’t decide which of the above flavor options you want to try first), you could even use aluminum foil to divide the casserole dish in half, then bake a different version of the recipe on each side. It’s one cauliflower casserole recipe, made twice as nice.
Whether you are looking to please picky eaters (hi, cream cheese and bacon), try a new recipe at Thanksgiving this year, or are among those who *think* they don’t care for Thanksgiving food, I hope you give this loaded Cauliflower Casserole a try. It’s sure to be a fast favorite at your table!
Even More Thanksgiving Recipes
- Don’t miss the Thanksgiving recipe section of my recipe index.
- McCormick also has a tasty collection of Thanksgiving recipes on its website here, many of which have been created by some of my favorite food bloggers. (You may spot a few of mine there, too!)
- 2 medium heads cauliflower — cut into bite-size florets (about 3–4 pounds cauliflower, prior to being cut, or 5–6 cups florets)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon McCormick Garlic Powder
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon McCormick Black Pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon McCormick Ground Nutmeg
- 6 slices bacon
- 4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese — at room temperature
- 1/4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt
- 2/3 cup freshly grated gruyere — or similar melty, nutty, alpine-style cheese, divided
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese — divided
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Place racks in the upper and lower thirds of your oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Lightly coat a wide 3-quart casserole dish, such as an 9x13, with nonstick spray. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower florets with the olive oil, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Transfer the cauliflower to the prepared casserole dish and spread into an even layer. Keep the bowl handy. Bake the cauliflower on the lower rack for 30 minutes, until the florets are tender and begin to brown.
Meanwhile, arrange the bacon strips in a single layer on the prepared foil-lined baking sheet. Bake on the upper rack until crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the bacon and cauliflower from the oven. Stir the cauliflower, spread it back into an even layer, and place it on the upper rack to continue cooking until the end of its baking time. Transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate and lightly pat dry. Once cool enough to handle, roughly chop or crumble the bacon into small pieces.
In the same bowl that you used to toss the cauliflower, beat together the cream cheese and Greek yogurt until combined. Stir in 1/3 cup gruyere cheese, 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, and half of the chopped bacon.
Remove the roasted cauliflower from the oven and dollop the cream cheese mixture over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/3 cup gruyere and 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Return the pan to the upper third of the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and gooey, about 5 to 7 minutes. Turn the oven to broil. Broil the casserole until golden on top, 1 to 3 minutes. Do not walk away, and watch carefully to make sure the cheese does not burn. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh chives and remaining bacon. Serve hot.
- The cauliflower can be roasted 1 day in advance. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. The cream cheese mixture can be prepared 1 day in advance and stored in the refrigerator. When ready to cook, warm the cauliflower in the baking dish in a 350-degree F oven until hot. Let the cream cheese mixture come to room temperature. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F, then dollop on the cream cheese and bake as directed.
- This recipe is easy to scale! Feel free to double it (bake in two separate 9x13-inch pans) or halve it and bake in a 1 1/2-quart casserole or gratin dish.
Nutrition InformationAmount per serving (1 of 8) — Calories: 232, Fat: 17g, Saturated Fat: 4g, Cholesterol: 19mg, Carbohydrates: 10g, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 5g, Protein: 13g
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