Friday, March 16, 2012

Cauliflower Gratin

Vegetables continue to be the new black.  Cauliflower has gotten a lot of well-earned attention lately.  From a simple soup I had here to this very popular app, cauliflower is fantastic and can be deliciously prepared by roasting or par-baking and then broiling.  

They haven't even dyed the Chicago River green yet for the St. Patty's Day parade, and it's been three days in a row of 80 degrees F.  The 5-day forecast has four or more days of the same!  I thought last year's weather was crazy,  and after almost no winter in 2011-2012, we've got record-breaking warmth.  It might, however, still snow in March, (or April or May) as Chicago has had days with 7" of snow after an eighty-degree high.  If that does happen I'll be plenty happy to make a chilly-weather dish, like this cauliflower gratin.  It's a veggie, just keep telling yourself that.  A veg dish that happens to also have cheese, butter, and bacon.

It isn't even halfway through March and the grill has already seen encased meats, shrimps, some loin chops and I got a tenderloin in a brine soaking as I type.  Can you get burned out on grilling too much, too early?? 

A loose recipe for this one.  It's not difficult if you've got the ingredients and some simple techniques down.  A very good chef, entertaining blogger and advocate for cooking without relying on reading recipes line by line is Michael Ruhlman, who decided techniques are so important to the home cook he penned a book on the subject.  You can use a different cheese, you don't have to add bacon, although it is one of the most delicious foods on earth.  Feel free to mix in another veggie, use chicken stock vs. milk to build your roux, hell use cream if you really want to blow it out.  Blanching veggies without turning them into mush and taking just a few ingredients and turning a roux into a bechemel are simple but valuable techniques for the chef du maison. 

Cauliflower Gratin
about four servings

So here is (roughly) how it goes- cut half a head of cauliflower into small  ~1" florets.  Cook quickly in boiling salted water, a couple tree minutes until softened but still firm.  Blanch in an ice bath to stop the cooking process, then drain once cool and set aside.

In a small skillet, fry 4 pieces of your favorite bacon crisp, remove and crumble, set aside.  Remove all but 1 TB of bacon fat, add 1 TB of butter and let melt.  To begin your roux, add 2 TB of flour and whisk constantly for about three or four minutes, until you develop a nice light golden medium roux.  If it looks too dry, add a touch of butter as needed.  Add in 1 C of warmed (steeped with 3 split garlic cloves optional) whole milk, whisk for a couple minutes, then stir occasionally until thickened, couple three or five minutes more.  Season with a pinch of S&P, remove from heat and add 1/2 C of shredded Gruyere while stirring to melt the cheese.   

You certainly don't need to have little individual cast-iron dishes or ramekins, you can use a shallow glass baking dish...but they are pretty sweet, I would tell Santa about it if I was you.

Add a bit of the roux to the bottom of your dish, then the cauliflower.  More of the roux is next, distributing evenly so the cauliflower is about 2/3 covered.  Sprinkle with a bit more shredded Gruyere, then the crumbled bacon and breadcrumbs.  Broil on high for 5-6 minutes, top with thinly sliced green onion.

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