This recipe uses several techniques and skills that can be used over and over with many different types of dishes. First, blanching and refreshing of vegetables: this involves dropping a vegetable in boiling, salted water and then refreshing, or ‘shocking’ it in ice water. What this does is par-cook a vegetable (potatoes included) so that in the final cooking stage, the vegetable is done to perfection.
In the case of hard white vegetables such as cauliflower or potatoes, they are golden brown on the outside and perfectly tender on the inside.
For green vegetables, blanching removes any bitter flavours and the refreshing ‘shocks’ the vegetables to a bright green. Use blanched broccoli on your next veggie platter.
Second, the making of a roux. A roux is equal parts of fat (usually butter) and flour that are cooked together before adding a liquid such as milk, stock or water. There are three different types of roux: white, blond and brown. The darker the roux, the less thickening power it has. You would use a white roux for a thick, milky sauce and a brown roux is traditionally used in soups such as gumbo.
In today’s recipe, we are making a béchamel which, by adding the Gruyere cheese, is now called a Mornay sauce.
Finally, the gratin. This is a widely used culinary technique for finishing a dish. Whether it is using cheese, eggs or buttered breadcrumbs, it is an attractive and delicious browned crust atop numerous types of food. We have used the gratin over pasta, slow cooked beans, and any number of roasted vegetables (such as ratatouille in the height of summer). It is an elegant finishing touch.
Sure, this may be a traditional recipe you’ve made before, but sometimes it can be a reminder of what great homemade food is all about.
Blanch cauliflower florets in a generous amount of water for about 4-5 minutes. Refresh in ice water to stop them from cooking any further. They should be crisp tender;
Pre-heat oven to 375 F;
- 2 large heads of cauliflower
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 3 cups milk
- 1 cup grated gruyere
- Pinch of nutmeg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (fine or coarse)
- 2 tbsp soft butter
Melt butter in a saucepan and add the flour (this is known as the roux). Cook 2-3 minutes to cook out some of the flour taste. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly. Lower the heat to low and add the cheese, warm until just melted, otherwise the cheese will become grainy. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg;
Mix together breadcrumbs and butter;
Gently toss cauliflower into sauce and pour into a gratin dish (or for special entertaining, make individual gratins in small ramekins). Sprinkle with buttered breadcrumbs;
Place dish on baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until the gratin in bubbling and golden brown.