Right now there are three food mantras in my life. Vegetables, calcium and flavor. And today’s Broccoli Cheese casserole hits all three! With two vegetables and two cheeses, it’s a bonanza of often shorted-changed nutrients!
And did I mention the whole family loves it?
You see I’ve never believed in eating a food “because it’s good for you.” I do try to avoid foods that are unhealthy, but I want to eat out of love as well as health. And this seriously has both!
What is a Gratinata?
This recipe began life as a green been casserole based on a recipe from Lidia Bastianich, who called it a Gratinata. Not familiar with the term?
According to eHow, “to prepare a dish au gratin or as a gratinata is to finish it with a generous sprinkling of cheese, breadcrumbs and butter prior to baking.”
Sounds like a formula for tasty to me!
We liked the green bean original so much, I needed an excuse to serve it more often. And that’s how this Broccoli Cheese Casserole was born!
Why You’ll Love This!
Delicious. Loaded with cheese and some great Italian seasonings, you don’t even need to be a vegetable fan to think this is delicious!
Healthy. Lots of calcium. Two veggies. Olive oil instead of butter. It will even make vegetarians happy. ‘Nuf said?
Versatile. This has everything you need for either a side dish or a main dish. While we started eating the original as a Thanksgiving green bean casserole substitute, it quickly grew beyond its original role!
What You’ll Need
- Broccoli Florets. This is the main ingredient in the dish.
- Grape or Cherry Tomatoes. This adds freshness and extra nutrition.
- Fresh Mozzarella. This adds rich cheesy goodness. I use the small round balls if I can find them. Otherwise I’ll cut up a log or large ball into bite-sized pieces.
- Fresh Basil. Adds flavor. You can use 1 Tablespoon of dried basil if you can’t get fresh.
- Grated Fresh Parmesan. This adds more cheesy flavor and a punch of umami!
- Salt. Adds flavor.
- Italian Bread Crumbs. Enhances the flavor and adds a little crunch. My homemade Italian Breadcrumbs are easy to make if you happen to be out. Or consult that recipe and add some herbs to plain breadcrumbs. For keto / low-carb, you can use crushed pork rinds mixed with Italian Seasoning.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Enhances the flavor, adds richness and moisture, helps the dish brown.
- You’ll need a medium casserole dish or smaller Dutch oven for baking.
Step by Step Directions
Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli, bring back to a boil and cook for a couple minutes until still slightly crunchy, . Drain the broccoli and run under cool water to cool.
Place half of the broccoli, tomatoes, mozzarella, salt and basil in the casserole. Toss to combine, then top with half of the olive oil, Parmesan and bread crumbs (or crushed pork rinds for keto / low-carb).
Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
Bake covered, then take off the cover when almost done to brown. Casserole is done when everything is warm and broccoli is tender.
How to Serve
One of the delights of this Broccoli Cheese Casserole is that works well as a side or an entrée!
As a side dish, it goes well with just about any meat or poultry entrée. I especially like it with more basic entrées like Dutch Oven Roast Chicken or pork chops since it adds welcome flare to the meal. I’ve even served it at lunch as a side to a small sandwich or hearty soup.
When I serve Broccoli Cheese Casserole as an entrée, I usually let it stand solo—with all that cheese there’s little chance of feeling deprived! But a nice crusty bread or an herbed biscuit would also be delicious. And if it’s dinner time and we haven’t had our “five-a-day” (servings of fruit and vegetables), I may even add a simple green salad.
If you love this as much as I do, you might want to try the Green Bean Casserole as well!
Going low carb or keto? Go with crushed pork rinds instead of the bread crumbs. They’re delicious! Just add in some extra Italian seasonings to turn them into low carb Italian “breadcrumbs” (see my recipe for suggestions).
Prep & Leftovers
To streamline your preparation, you can lightly pre-cook your broccoli and cool it ahead of time. Be sure to only partially cook it or it will be overly soft in the final dish. Or use frozen broccoli, which you don’t need to pre-cook, just thaw and add.
Though I haven’t tried it, I suspect you could even pre-assemble the whole casserole the day before except for the final bread crumbs.
Store leftovers covered and eat within a few days. If you need to freeze leftovers, they will be softer when thawed. In that case, I’d reheat and top with a fried egg or two for a nice breakfast.
Tips & FAQs
The biggest risk in this casserole is overcooking the broccoli. I very briefly pre-cook raw broccoli but thaw and use frozen broccoli without any pre-cooking.
A good test for doneness is to first check that the cheese is softened–it doesn’t need to fully melt. Then check a cherry tomato to see if it is heated through and test that the broccoli is tender.
I especially love preparing this in the fall—the bountiful days of stuffed CSA boxes or overzealous farmers market trips. You can clear out a refrigerator full of broccoli and cherry tomatoes pretty quickly!
And for more ideas for #DairyMonth check out:
- Asiago Cheese Bagels by Karen’s Kitchen Stories
- Berry Cream Pops by Jolene’s Recipe Journal
- Broccoli Cheese Casserole by Art of Natural Living
- Gochujang Paneer Bowl by Magical Ingredients
- Lemon-Blueberry Cheesecake Shake by A Little Fish in the Kitchen
- Macaroni Salad Caprese by Palatable Pastime
- Milk Cookies by A Day in the Life on the Farm
- No Churn Blueberry Ice Cream by Hezzi-D’s Books and Cooks
- One Pot Garlic Parmesan Chicken Pasta by Hostess At Heart
- Pimento Cheese Mac and Cheese by A Kitchen Hoor’s Adventures
- Reese Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream by Blogghetti
- Slow Cooker Cream Cheese Chili Chicken by Cheese Curd In Paradise
- S’mores Ice Cream by Jen Around the World
- Summer Fruit Tortillas by The Freshman Cook
- Vanilla Bean-Nutmeg Milkshake with Blackberry Swirl by The Spiffy Cookie
Broccoli Cheese Casserole (Gratinata)
- 6-8 cups broccoli florets depending on casserole dish size
- 1 pint grape tomatoes or cherry
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella sliced into 1-inch cubes (or small fresh mozzarella balls)
- 6-8 basil leaves sliced thinly or 1 Tablespoon dried basil
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs or crushed pork rinds for keto / low-carb
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil over high heat. Add the broccoli, bring back to a boil and cook for a couple minutes until still medium crunchy, . Drain the broccoli and run under cool water to cool.
- Place half of the broccoli, tomatoes, mozzarella, salt and basil in the casserole. Toss to combine, then top with half of the olive oil, Parmesan and bread crumbs, Prepeat with the remaining ingredients.
- Cover and bake the casserole at 350 F, for 20-30 minutes until everyything is heated through and broccoli is tender. Take off the cover when almost done to allow top to brown slightly. Serve hot in the baking dish.
Originally published May 18, 2017
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