Thursday, 18 December 2008
This summer, we bought the most beautiful gratin dish at a lawn sale. All I could think about was cauliflower au gratin – waiting anxiously until cauliflower was in season.
I craved cauliflower au gratin that rivalled the cauliflower au gratin we had in 1996 in the tiny town of Monsols, not very far from Lyon. We had bicycled up up up on a chilly day and arrived at the one and only hotel in town and asked if the lady would be able to feed us. She told us she’d have to check. We watched her go into the rear part of the room and open a big chest freezer to look at the contents. Back she came; yes she could feed us. What time would we like dinner?
We settled on 8:00 after her regular pre-dinner drinks clientele had gone home. At 8:00 we were served THE Most Fabulous Food: a couple of jugs of good Beaujolais, a huge leafy salad with smoky ham and cheese and a simple vinaigrette, three kinds of grilled chops (lamb, veal, pork), crusty bread and a giant dish of cauliflower au gratin. The most fabulous cauliflower au gratin. Just the thing for a chilly fall evening. We finished with fromage blanc and blood peaches. (One of the things I really loved about this dinner was that it was like going to someone’s house. There was no choosing. We simply had what the lady made for dinner that night. And she is a wonderful cook!)
As much as we loved that cauliflower and the number of times we’ve reminisced about that ride and the wonderful reception we had in Monsols, we’d never actually made cauliflower au gratin. It was high time to remedy the situation.
Whenever we’re going to try making a new (for us) vegetable dish, the first place on the internet we turn to is Alanna’s (A Veggie Venture) Alphabet of Vegetables. We know we’re sure to find at least one recipe that we’ll want to try. Alanna has three cauliflower au gratin dishes. We looked at them all and were really intrigued with her Creamy Cauliflower Gratin that was based on a recipe she found in Food & Wine (November 2001).
Initially, when I read the recipe out loud, we blanched.
[T]he real trick with this cauliflower is the anchovies, which generate a remarkable sweetness, a memorable depth … and not one bit of fishiness. I’m willing to bet: you won’t ‘taste’ anchovy, you’ll just think, Wow, this cauliflower is wonderful.
And T agreed, saying that anchovies would make it a little too funky. He was pretty sure he knew what to do anyway and off he headed to the kitchen to happily whistle, rattle pans, chop, steam and saute. For a moment, I thought I smelled a faint but unmistakable fishiness wafting up from the kitchen. And almost as soon as I imagined noticing it, it was gone and the aroma was wonderful.
I was summoned to the kitchen. “You have to taste this!” “This” was the béchamel for the cauliflower.
It. Was. Fabulous.
I’ve never tasted such wonderful béchamel before! Here’s how the conversation went:
he: Do you notice?
me: Other than that it’s fabulous? No….
he: I added an anchovy.
me: Really??!! I thought maybe you had and then decided I was wrong.
he: When I added the bay leaf, everything smoothed out completely.
Sometime in October when I brought our bay tree indoors for the winter, I had to trim away some of the top so the tree would fit in the basement. I hung the branch upside down on the broom closet door. The leaves dry beautifully and we just break off a leaf whenever we need one for stock or béchamel. Using bay leaves that are only a couple of weeks old is fantastic. And when we run out of the dried ones on the door, one of us can go down to the basement and steal a fresh leaf from the tree.
Cauliflower au Gratin
based on Alanna Kellogg’s “Creamy Cauliflower Gratin”
you’ll probably have to play with the measurements….
- ½ head cauliflower, cut in largish bite size pieces
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 anchovy
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- onion, chopped
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 c milk
- splash of chicken stock
- cream (optional)
- pepper and seasalt to taste
- bread crumbs
- pepper and seasalt to taste
- Steam cauliflower until it is al dente. Arrest the cooking by plunging into cold water. Drain and set aside in the baking dish.
- In a frying pan, heat the olive oil at medium heat. Add garlic and anchovy and cook for a couple of minutes, using a wooden spoon to mash the anchovy so it virtually disappears from view.
- Add onion and cook til soft.
- Sprinkle in flour and stir for about a minute.
- Add milk, stock and a bay leaf (I’m guessing that if you have store-bought bay leaves in your cupboard, you may have to add two rather than one to smooth out the flavour) and simmer gently gently to create a béchamel. Add salt and pepper to taste. If the sauce seems too thick, add some cream.
- topping Heat olive oil and a little butter (if you want) in a clean frying pan (cast iron is good). Add bread crumbs and, stirring from time to time, cook til golden. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- Pour béchamel over the cauliflower and bake at 400F for 20 to 25 minutes til the top is golden and bubbly.
Serve immediately. Sprinkle the bread crumb topping overtop of each serving. Or not. This is easily as wonderful with or without the breadcrumbs. Now dig in. And I dare you to tell me that you even get a hint of anchovy.
This cauliflower au gratin was fabulous!! It was so good that we had it again a couple of nights later. We really can’t thank Alanna enough for posting the recipe! I think it would be ideal with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding etc. etc. Throw in a few steamed green beans with pimiento on the side for colour and what a festive dinner that would be!
Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)
Bay Laurel is a tender perennial that loves the sun (will tolerate light partial shade) and well-drained fertile soil. According to Plants for a Future, in winter when bay laurel is dormant, “it is reliably hardy to about -5°c, with occasional lows to -15°c, these lower temperatures may defoliate the tree but it usually recovers in late spring to summer.”.
However, I don’t take chances and bring our bay tree indoors as soon as night temperatures start to dip below 10C. One winter, I forgot to water the tree in the early spring when it started to come out of dormancy. All the leaves were hanging straight down. I was certain that I’d murdered it. I watered it and it took about 3 days before the leaves moved back into their normal position. Then about a week after taking it outdoors (when the temperatures were above 10C), ALL the leaves fell off and new leaves appeared where the old ones had been. Even though it seemed to survive the stress, I’m not about to try that again and have an alarm set on the computer reminding me to water the plants in the basement – about once a week in deep winter and a little more frequently when spring arrives and I start to see new growth.
The Laurel or Bay Tree [...] was first grown inside Roman villas more than 2000 years ago [and] will thrive under ordinary room conditions if it is kept in a sunny spot, given plenty of fresh air [...] and watered with care. Overwatering in winter is the usual cause of failure.
- excerpt from The Houseplant Expert by Dr. D.G. Hessayon
Here is another reason to plant your own bay tree rather than buy the leaves from the supermarket. (Who knows how old bottled bay leaves are before they get onto supermarket shelves?):
Dried [bay] leaves should be whole and olive green. Brown leaves will have lost their flavour. Whole leaves are often used in cooking and crushed or ground leaves can be used for extra strength. Kept out of light in airtight containers the whole leave will retain flavour for over two years.
- excerpt from the epicentre: Bay Leaf
I’ve always thought of bay leaf as a culinary herb. But it turns out that it apparently has medicinal uses as well.
Bay leaf has many properties which make it useful for treating high blood sugar, migraine headaches, bacterial and fungal infections, and gastric ulcers.
- excerpt from the epicentre: Bay Leaf
Common Cooking Herbs Packed with Antioxidants
In general, fresh herbs and spices are healthier and contain a higher level of antioxidant activity than dried or processed counterparts.
- excerpt from American Cancer Society: Common Cooking Herbs Packed with Antioxidants
[The bay leaf] is settling to the stomach and has a tonic effect, stimulating the appetite and the secretion of digestive juices [...] The leaves are highly aromatic and can be used as an insect repellent, the dried leaves protect stored grain, beans etc from weevils.
- excerpt from Laurus nobilis – Plants for a Future (PFAF) database report (please note that (PFAF) will not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants and stresses that one must always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.)
Read more about bay laurel:
- Some previous WHB posts about bay laurel:
* Rogan Josh: the ultimate comfort food (WHB#124)
* fresh bay leaves (WHB#51)
* Bay (Laurus nobilis) to make Old Bay Seasoning (WHB#23)
- growing bay laurel
- WHB#23: bay laurel (12 March 2006)
- wikipedia – bay laurel
- Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages – laurel
- Cook’s Thesaurus – bay
- The Epicentre – bay leaf
- Plants for a Future – Laurus nobilis
- American Cancer Society – antioxidants
A short time ago, Kalyn (Kalyn’s Kitchen) handed the reins of her fabulous weekly event, Weekend Herb Blogging over to Haalo (Cook (almost) Anything). Thanks to Kalyn and Haalo (not to mention the countless wonderful participants), this event is still going strong. This week, the dishes are featuring holiday themed recipes. The deadline for entering WHB#163 is Sunday 2 December 2008 at 15:00, Utah time (GMT-6). For complete details on how to participate in Weekend Herb Blogging, please see the following:
This week’s WHB holiday celebrations are hosted by Haalo Cook (almost) Anything, the new headquarters for Weekend Herb Blogging.