Happy New Year! 2015 finds me back in the kitchen hungering for new recipes and creative inspiration. I am taking a breath after an industrious holiday season that included much baking and many stacked gift baskets on top of a new job. My cooking was limited to everything-but-the-kitchen-sink salads with salmon burgers and lots of tacos. It was a food rut, and I am happy to be climbing out. Now the quiet and cold of winter (a brisk -9º this morning) has set in and with that a Sunday afternoon to cook. I had plans to make a refreshing and light spaghetti squash salad with olives and almonds but alas, no squash at the market (stay tuned as that recipe waits in the wings).
Instead, I did a 180º and went for a rich and cheesy gratin. This is melt-in-your-mouth comfort food. And, don’t let the title scare you away. It’s not particularly heavy. The key ingredient is a spice blend I have been seeing pop up in recipes, and I had to have it. It’s called vadouvan, a French take on Indian Masala — a curry mix with dried shallots, garlic, mustard seeds, curry leaves and other spices. I purchased it online, and it made this dish come alive. Vadouvan is relatively inexpensive, so if you are looking for a culinary adventure, try it out. Also, you will need an afternoon for this dish. The gratin cooks for 2 hours and can use another 30 minutes to sit on the counter until it’s ready for prime time. It’s worth the wait.
I modified the original recipe and replaced the cream with half and half. I think a mixture of the two would be even better. The recipe called for thinly sliced onions, which I used, but I would suggest a raft of shallots, thinly sliced and placed as the first floor on your gratin house. As the shallots bake, they impart just the right amount of sweetness to the dish. Try it. If you have a mandoline, use that to slice your potatoes wafer thin. The original recipe calls for three cheeses, one of them is a cantal, which I didn’t have on hand. I opted for Pecorino, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and a Cabot Creamery Catamount cheese that boasted flavors of swiss and parmesan. You can experiment. I might try it again with goat cheese, just for kicks.
Triple Cheese Cauliflower Gratin
Serves 4 generously
1 1/2 cups half and half/cream mixture
4 -5 T vadouvan
1-2 small cloves garlic, chopped fine
Salt and pepper
3 ounces Emmental or Swiss cheese
3 ounces sharp cheddar
3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano
3-4 large shallots, sliced thinly
1 pound or 2-3 small Russet potatoes, sliced thinly
1/2 head cauliflower, sliced crosswise
1. Preheat oven to 350º. Place cream/half and half mixture in saucepan with vadouvan and chopped garlic, and heat to a simmer. Don’t let it boil. Take it off the heat, and let the flavors marry for 15 minutes.
2. Mix your cheeses in a bowl.
3. Lightly oil your gratin dish or 9-by-11 baking dish. Place sliced shallots along the bottom of the dish.
4. Layer potatoes atop the shallots, add cauliflower, and sprinkle cheese atop. Pour about 1/3 of the cream mixture over the layer. Then start the layering process again.
5. Save some cheese for the very top layer. And spoon the remaining cream mixture over the top of the layers.
6. Place aluminum foil over the gratin, pierce some holes in it, and place in oven. Bake for 90 minutes, and remove foil. Bake for another 30 minutes and let ‘rest’ on the counter for another 30 before serving.
* If you don’t have vadouvan handy! then approximate with curry powder and mustard seeds. Experiment.
* The cauliflower should be sliced thinly, so you can make your layers, so treat it like a cross-section.