Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bill's Potato and Cauliflower Gratin

Bill Mitchell and Mary Mitchell Burrill
On top of Monte Fosse Delle Felci in Salina.
The highest point in the Aeolian Islands.

Who knew a Gratin was easy.  Well it is, and it is an easy way to do something that looks spectacular, and gets compliments with very little effort.

I have mixed emotions where it comes to cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.  Wonderful and healthy as they are, they have that bitter edge to them.  I remember as a kid, seeing a recipe for cauliflower on some TV show.  Maybe it was the Galloping Goumet or something.  I watched that as much as possible...What a lunatic, but he was fun to watch.  I do not remember the order, but they placed a whole head of cauliflower in a baking dish and frosted it with sour cream, then added a layer of cream cheese, then another layer of white sauce and crumbs or something.   Then they baked it...if I remember correctly.  Wow, how to change healthy into a heart attack bomb! 
Any time you try to mitigate those flavors that you(I) dislike, all the healthy benefits are gone and fat and calories replace them.  Well, there is a bit of that here, but I do try to use fat free products when possible.  Fat free sour cream, fat free mayo and fat free cream cheese when called for, and white sauces work quite nicely with olive oil instead of butter.  Avoid most vegetable oils for sauces however, unless they are heavily seasoned, because you can get a rather distinct fishy odor and taste from them. 

This is my own creation, but one must remember that there are dozens of easy gratins.  They can be made with a cheese sauce, or with any classic sauce from the old school, like Hollandaise, Tomato, Bearnaise or Supreme sauces. Just seasoned cream is an option, as is Alfredo or a Vodka sauce, you know that creamy version of tomato sauce.

This easily multiplies to make larger versions.  I can serve two with this one.  It is both vegetable and starch, so it does not go as far as it initially appears to.

1. Two cups of Cauliflower florets.  Microwave for 6 minutes covered with a few tablespoons of water. or steam till just short of tender.  Do not over cook, they should still have a little bite to them. Set aside.

2. Peel and slice two baking potatoes into 1/2 inch slices.  Shingle them in the bottom of a pie plate or shallow baking or Gratin dish.(lightly greased or sprayed)  Be neat in your arrangement as the texture may show.  Microwave for about five minutes covered.  (Longer as you multiply the amount you are cooking.)  Remember that this is not meant to be a heavy layer of potato, a single layer "shingled" is all you want.  You could parboil a lot of potatoes to make a very large casserole like a Lasagna pan etc..

3. Chop one medium onion coarsely.  
Saute in 3 tablespoons (I know this seems like a lot, but it is necessary) of a flavorless oil or butter at low temperature to avoid color.  Taste the oil!

4. When the onion is soft, add three tablespoons of flour and stir to combine.  Cook at low for a minute or two, but avoid coloring the flour.
Add 1 1/2 cups milk and stir over low heat till the sauce thickens.  If it is very thick, add a bit more milk till it becomes a rather thick White Sauce consistency.
Add a pinch of Cayenne, salt and pepper to taste.
Stir in about 3/4 of a cup of  sour cream(this will certainly work if you wish to use a plain Bechamel or add Parmesan or even cream cheese.  A bit of milk may be necessary if you use the cream cheese.)
when all is smooth(with lumps of onion of course) allow to cool briefly as you assemble.

5.The pie plate with the shingled potato is neatly topped with cauliflower florets, then the onion sour cream sauce is poured over the top.  I use half the sauce and save the rest in the refrigerator for a baked potato or to top a cut of meat or poultry.

6.Place in a 375 oven till bubbly and top is browned in spots.

This would also be great with slivers of ham shingled in with the potato, crumbled bacon in the sauce or on top, or with butter sauteed croutons or large fried bread crumbs or Parmesan on top.  How about cooked peas in the sauce?  Chopped chives on top to serve would be great.

If you hate Cauliflower, this is the meal for you.  It mellows out considerably.

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