Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Roasted Vegetables + Cheesey Cream Sauce = Gratin Goodness

Roasting vegetables brings out deeper flavor and a crisp-around-the edges texture making them simply divine. It's like every veg always intended to be roasted. And I roast everything from broccoli and asparagus to tomatoes and squash, potatoes and eggplant, you name it, I will roast it. I usually add in a touch of vinegar be it red wine, balsamic, lemon juice, sherry vinegar or other, though in this particular recipe I leave the cauliflower alone. You can roast veggies well in advance and keep in airtight containers in the frige for snacking or dishes like this one.

Now a gratin is a seriously easy dish. It is creamy, hearty and definitely comfort food material. Serve as a side dish with a roasted meat or bulk them up with some chopped ham or tons of veggies and serve as a main course with salad and bread. For this gratin, I swopped out the roasted leeks for caramelized onions because I didn’t have leeks on hand. Just toss sliced onions into a sauté pan with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and salt and sauté on medium low heat for 20-25 minutes until they are dark brown (not burned) and sweet. You might also throw in a teaspoon or two of balsamic vinegar half way through cooking to add another layer of flavor to the onions. Then chop the onions and toss them with cauliflower for the gratin.

Overall, this recipe is really versatile so you could pretty much use anything you want. Once you master the art of making a béchamel (aka creamy white sauce), which is quite easy, just takes a bit of whisking, you will find it is useful for a whole host of dishes. Never shy away from anything that helps deliver more cheese to your food people :-) !

Roasted Cauliflower Gratin
(Adapted from the Working Cook)

Roasted vegetables
• 2 small heads cauliflower, about 3 pounds untrimmed
• 4 tablespoons olive oil
• Kosher salt and pepper to taste
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 large leek

• 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
• 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
• 2 cups low-fat milk
• 1/2 cup (generous) grated Parmesan, Gruyere or Manchego cheese
• Kosher salt and white or black pepper
• 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
• 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon whole-grain Dijon mustard
• 1 to 2 ounces ham, cut into baton shapes (optional)
• 1/4 cup breadcrumbs

To make the roasted vegetables: Preheat the oven to 400°.

Cut the cauliflower into florets that are 1 1/2 inches wide. In a large bowl, toss the florets with 3 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and spread out on a large rimmed baking sheet.
Roast until tender with a bit of bite and lightly browned, 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the garlic after 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, remove the coarse dark tops of the leek and cut lengthwise. Wash thoroughly by soaking in cold water, then cut each half into 2-inch lengths, discarding any more dark green ends and checking for hidden dirt. Separate the layers and toss with 1 tablespoon oil and some salt, then spread out on another large rimmed baking sheet and roast until crispy in some parts and thoroughly soft throughout, about 15 minutes. (You can roast the vegetables several hours ahead and refrigerate before completing the dish.) (OR see below for what I did with onions instead of leeks.)
To make the gratin: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-4 minutes, taking care that it doesn't brown. Whisk in the milk until smooth, then bring to a gentle simmer whisking constantly. Maintain the heat so it's bubbling very gently; stir often until the sauce thickens and the flour cooks, about 10-15 minutes. You know it is done when the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon and you can run your finger through it leaving a trail that doesn't go away. Take off heat. Add 1/3 cup of the Parmesan and stir until just melted. Add white pepper and nutmeg. Stir in the msutard and taste for seasoning. Add salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.
When the vegetables are done, reduce the oven temperature to 350°. Toss the vegetables with the ham, if using, in a 13- by 9-inch baking pan, such as a Pyrex. Pour the sauce evenly over the vegetables. Combine the breadcrumbs with the remaining cheese and sprinkle over the top.
Bake until bubbly and lightly browned, 20 minutes. If you like, run the gratin briefly under the broiler to brown well. Serve warm.

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