Why This Recipe Works
- Blanching the cauliflower earlier than incorporating it into the gratin helps the dish cook dinner extra evenly.
- Seasoning the mornay sauce with white miso paste intensifies the flavour of the Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano and lends a barely candy, nutty taste.
- The brightness of za’atar within the breadcrumbs helps to offset the richness of the cheese and cream within the gratin.
The bitter chilly of a Cincinnati winter introduced me to cauliflower gratin. It was my first 12 months away from house; not like the nice and cozy winters in India that I used to be accustomed to, I used to be within the Midwest dealing with ear-biting wind chills and snowy days. I typically sought consolation and heat in libraries and bookstores and it was throughout one among my journeys to the library that I got here throughout Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book and its recipe for cauliflower gratin. The cauliflower—draped in a wealthy, savory mornay sauce and topped with a sprinkling of buttery bread crumbs—shortly grew to become my go-to consolation meal.
Although I’ve lengthy since left Cincinnati, the dish stays a favourite of mine, a lot in order that I’ve tweaked it quite a few occasions through the years to my liking. My model builds on the candy and nutty flavors of the cheeses. Cauliflower florets are coated in a velvety mornay sauce—a béchamel enriched with semi-firm cheeses like Swiss, Gruyère, or Parmigiano-Reggiano—then topped with breadcrumbs. A contact of miso paste brings a deep, savory taste to the sauce as nicely.
The Greatest Option to Put together Cauliflower for Gratin
To make sure that our gratin cooks evenly within the oven, we should first cook dinner the cauliflower till tender. The query is: to blanch or to not blanch? Initially, I used to be curious to see if steaming the cauliflower in a baking dish tightly coated with foil would obtain the identical outcomes as blanching the cauliflower in a pot of salted water. After evaluating the 2 strategies side-by-side, I discovered that the oven-steamed cauliflower wasn’t exponentially extra flavorful than the blanched cauliflower, nor was it considerably sooner. The truth is, the oven-steamed cauliflower took 25-to-Half-hour, whereas blanching—together with the time it took to deliver the water to a boil—took nearly 10 minutes.
Tips on how to Make Mornay Sauce
With a purpose to make a very stellar mornay sauce, it’s important to grasp how a roux—a mix of fats and flour—works to thicken the soups and sauces it’s utilized in. To make a roux, you whisk flour into melted fats, cooking the starch for a number of minutes to cook dinner out its uncooked taste. This not solely leads to a extra scrumptious sauce, but it surely additionally coats every starch granule in fats and reduces the danger of the flour clumping while you ultimately whisk within the liquid, like inventory or milk.
The type of starch and fats you utilize—in addition to how lengthy you cook dinner your roux and the way darkish you wish to take it—will decide the flavour and thickness of your sauce. (You may learn extra right here in Daniel’s deep-dive.) As a result of we don’t desire a significantly darkish sauce—the darker the roux, the thinner the sauce—we’re going to cook dinner the flour simply till it loses its uncooked taste earlier than we add the milk. And whereas we do desire a sauce with physique, we additionally have to remember that the addition of Gruyère and Parmigiano-Reggiano will considerably enrich the sauce. Right here, a 1:1 ratio of flour to butter makes a thick however pourable sauce that doesn’t turn into too heavy as soon as the cheeses are added.
Making an Umami-Packed Sauce
To focus on the savory notes of the sauce, I added white miso paste, which intensifies the flavour of the cheeses and likewise lends a barely nutty taste. As former Severe Eats editor Sho Spaeth wrote in his profile of Rich Shih, a mechanical engineer and koji authority, miso is made by fermenting soybeans with a koji mildew referred to as Aspergillus oryzae, remodeling proteins into flavorful amino acids that our style buds interpret as umami. Along with different glutamate-rich seasonings like onion powder and garlic powder, the sauce is savory and sophisticated, highlighting the cauliflower’s pure sweetness.
Seasoning the Breadcrumbs
It’s doable to serve a gratin with no crunchy topping of toasted breadcrumbs, however what enjoyable would that be? Right here, I’ve chosen to season my breadcrumbs with za’atar, an important ingredient in lots of Arab pantries. Za’atar refers to a particular plant that belongs to the oregano household and is indigenous to the Levant, although the time period additionally, considerably confusingly, is used to explain a spice mix made with the leaves of the plant. As Palestinian author and Severe Eats contributor Reem Kassis talked about in her za’atar recipe, it’s tough to supply contemporary za’atar in america. Whereas oregano is an appropriate substitute when you’re making your individual mix, it’s additionally doable to buy mixes from firms like Burlap & Barrel and Milk Street. Earthy and herbaceous, za’atar provides a vibrant word that enhances and offsets the richness of the cheese and cream within the gratin.