Saturday, February 7, 2015

Choû-Fleur Au Gratin - Cauliflower Au Gratin

'Choû-Fleur' has an elegant ring to it doesn't it?  Well, it's simply French for cauliflower.  I love cauliflower in any form I can get it; raw on a crudité platter, soup, tempura, steamed.  Mostly, at my house, it gets steamed, mashed and seasoned with butter, salt and pepper.  That is my dinner many nights when I get home from work and am not super hungry.

I've been reading this book for quite some time now.  It was published by Gourmet Magazine in the 1950's and 1960's.  It's like a travel guide to the food in the different Provinces of France.  During those decades we in the United States were not as familiar with French cooking as we are now; thank goodness for Julia Child, so this served as an introduction to many basic French foods that are common place to us now. It's been a super interesting read and I have been having fun with basic French cooking through this book.  It was in this book that I found the recipe that I use as the base for any quiche I make.

Back to the cauliflower....  This evening I wasn't particularly hungry so I decided to do something with a head of cauliflower, oh, pardon me, choû-fleur, that I had in the fridge.  I decided to go very French basic.

Using this book I made Cauliflower Au Gratin.

Start with a nice, head of cauliflower.  Select one that is very white and void of a lot of brown spots.

Remove the green leaves and core the head.  Coring will help the separation into florets easy.

Separate the head into florets.  This is a pretty good size.

Rinse in a colander.

Place the cauliflower in a medium saucepan and cover with water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the  cauliflower until tender yet a little crunchy; about 3 to 4 minutes.  Pierce one of the larger pieces of cauliflower to test.  You don't want to cook it completely.  

Normally I would steam the cauliflower but I want to boil the cauliflower this time so I will have some cooking liquid to add to the sauce.  Drain the cauliflower and save 1/2 cup of the liquid.  Set the cauliflower aside.

Since this is a gratin, there is going to be a sauce that the cauliflower bakes in.  To be a proper gratin this sauce will form a crust on the surface of the cauliflower when baked.

So now we make the sauce.  The base of most French cream sauces is a Béchamel sauce.  In the U.S.  we all learned to make this in Home Economics class as a white sauce.

The sauce we'll make for our gratin is a Mornay sauce which is a Béchamel glorified with cheese and cooking liquid from whatever you are cooking with.

Let's make a basic Béchamel which is equal parts butter, flour and milk seasoned with a little grated nutmeg. For this recipe we are going to make 2 cups of white sauce.

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter in the same saucepan that you cooked the cauliflower.  Once the butter has finished bubbling, whisk in 2 Tbsp. flour and blend until you make a paste, or a roux.  Whisk off fire and allow to cook for a minute or two to rid the mixture of a floury taste.

Add 2 cups of very hot milk and whisk until smooth.  Return to fire and whisk until the sauce begins to thicken.

Now, here is where the Béchamel sauce becomes Mornay Sauce.  Add the 1/2 cup of reserved liquid that you cooked the cauliflower in.    Boil until you have reduced the sauce by a good quarter.  This is an important step.  If you don't do this your gratin might be a little watery (which in itself will not ruin this dish.  But not much can ruin this dish).

Stir in the Parmesan and Gruyère cheeses.  Return to a low heat and stir in make sure the cheeses melt.

Add the nutmeg.  Remove from the heat and finish the sauce with 2 Tbsp. butter.  (hey, remember this is a French dish.  There will be a lot of butter).

Coat the bottom of the dish with some of the Mornay sauce.

Fold the cauliflower into the remainder of the sauce and coat thoroughly.

Pour the cauliflower into the gratin dish and top with the reserved Gruyère cheese and bake in a 375°F. oven for 40 minutes or until the top is nicely browned.

This is so fabulous and will make the perfect side dish for any entreé.

Choû-Fleur Au Gratin - Cauliflower Au Gratin
Serves 4 to 6

1 head cauliflower
1/2 tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
2 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg, preferably fresh ground
1/2 cup reserved cauliflower cooking liquid 
3 ounces Gruyere cheese, divided
2 ounces Parmesan cheese

Mise en Place:
  • remove green leaves from cauliflower, core and break into florets.  Rinse and set aside
  • measure out salt
  • divide butter in 2 Tbsp. portions
  • measure out flower and milk
  • measure out nutmeg
  • shred cheeses and set aside 1 ounce of the Gruyère from rest
  • equipment:  saucepan, colander and gratin dish
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Place cauliflower in saucepan and cover with water.  Add 1/2 tsp. salt to the water.  Bring to a boil and cook for 4 to 5 minutes until cauliflower is tender yet still crunch.  Reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and drain cauliflower in a colander.  Set aside.

Prepare the sauce.  In the same saucepan you cooked the cauliflower, melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter.  When the butter has stopped bubbling, pull saucepan off the heat and whisk in the flour until you have a roux.  Allow to cook off heat for a minute or two.  Heat the milk in the microwave for 3 minutes or until very hot.  Return pan to heat and add the milk to the roux and whisk until smooth and sauce begins to thicken.  Add the reserved cooking liquid and blend.  Cook sauce until it is reduced to by one quarter.  Pull pan off heat and whisk in the 2 ounces each of Gruyère and Parmesan.  Return to low heat and stir until the cheese is melted.  Add the nutmeg.  Pull pan off heat and finish off with the remaining two Tbsp. butter.

Cover the bottom of the gratin pan with some of the sauce.  Fold the cooked cauliflower into the sauce and stir to coat.  Pour into the gratin dish and bake for 40 minutes, or until top is golden brown.

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