Sorry about the hiatus, but we had a slight problem with our computerized filing system here at Scratchin’ It Central. Fortunately, we were quickly able to upgrade to something newer, and, we hope, more reliable.
So, while we were installing and upgrading our computer, we needed sustenance, high-powered, delicious sustenance, and we got it through a cauliflower gratin. Not just any cauliflower gratin, but our take on Thomas Keller’s cauliflower gratin. We found the original recipe on The Delicious Life, and modified it to match what we did and didn’t have around the house, and to make it a bit easier to make. We also have a suggestion on how we’d make it next time, so keep on reading.
Just so you know, the vinegar is there to help keep the cauliflower white, not for flavoring; we think ordinary vinegar would work, too. For the white wine, we used some Pinot Grigio that was sitting in the fridge for just such an occasion; if you don’t have wine, use water, which is what the original recipe called for. We prefer to use organic heavy cream, since it’s 100% cream — nothing else on the ingredient list — but, sometimes, we don’t achieve the goal (this time is a case in point); the recipes still turn out. Finally, if you can’t find Comté cheese, try an Emmental, or a Gruyère.
Procedure in detail:
Prepare cauliflower. Trim off the green leaves from around the cauliflower; you can save these for stock, which is what we did, or you can find another use for them, or, if you like to waste perfectly good food, you can discard them. Cut off the florets, keeping the stem and core. Cut the florets into 1-inch-sized pieces, cutting off the stems of the florets as needed. Save these stems, too, as we’ll be using a bunch of these scraps in the sauce. Trim away the tough outer parts of the stem and core — like the leaves, these tough outer pieces are perfect for adding to stock — keeping the tender pieces of cauliflower. Chop all these pieces as finely as you can. The original recipe called for processing them in a food processor until they were nearly puréed; we chopped, so we didn’t have to clean the processor. Tip: If your blender has a variable speed, you might want to try using it to chop the cauliflower pieces very finely, rinsing the pieces out of the blender with the wine. After all, you’ll be using a blender anyway, so it won’t create extra cleanup. That’s what we’ll try next time.
Blanch and salt. While you’re prepping the cauliflower, bring a large kettle of salted water to a rolling boil. How much salt? The water should taste like the ocean. Add the vinegar, and blanch the cauliflower florets in two batches. Drop in about half the florets, and let them cook in the boiling water for 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove them, placing the florets in a colander to finish draining. Repeat with the remaining florets. Taste a floret, and, if needed, sprinkle with a bit of kosher salt. Once drained, transfer to an 8-inch baking dish or gratin dish.
Cook shallots. You can use the same pan that you used for blanching for making the sauce; just rinse it out, add the butter and shallots, and place over medium heat. Cook the shallots gently, stirring often, until translucent, about 2 minutes. Season with a bit of salt and pepper.
Cook minced cauliflower. Add the minced cauliflower, bay leaf, thyme (or thyme sprig), and wine to the shallots and allow to simmer, stirring often, until the cauliflower is tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 15 minutes. If needed, add more water to ensure the cauliflower is fully cooked.
Add cream. Add the cream and bring back to a simmer. Allow the cream to simmer, stirring often, for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and remove the bay leaf and thyme sprig, if using. Let cool for about 5 minutes.
Blend and season. Pour the cream mixture into the blender, and, before blending, remember that hot liquids can cause pressure to build in the blender, popping the top right off and spewing hot liquids everywhere. You don’t want that, so vent your blender, cover the vent with a kitchen towel, and start the blender as slowly as possible. Increase the speed to high and blend until smooth. Add the curry powder, and blend another 15 seconds. Taste the sauce and add salt, pepper, and nutmeg as needed, blending and tasting between additions.
Assemble gratin. Pour the sauce over the florets in the pan and give everything a gentle toss to coat.
Meld. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate so the flavors can meld, at least 30 minutes, or, even better, overnight. That’s what we did, and it was really nice to have a dish ready to go into the oven the next day with minimal work. If you refrigerate overnight, take it out about an hour before you plan to bake so it can warm (or temper) before being placed in the oven.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a rack in the center of the oven.
Cheesify. Sprinkle the cheese and breadcrumbs over the gratin. It’ll look as if there isn’t enough cheese, but the rich sauce will be formed by the cream, not the cheese, so don’t be tempted to add more.
Bake. Slide the gratin into the oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until it’s bubbly and browned. If you wish, you can get an extra-crispy top by placing it under the broiler for the last 5 minutes or so; just make sure your pan is broiler-safe (ours was not, so broiling action was out).
As with all Thomas Keller recipes, this turned out nearly perfectly. The gratin sauce thickened nicely and had just the right amount of flavor. We originally thought that the curry powder would be a bit odd, but it wasn’t. It added exactly the right amount of flavoring; just a little hint of something, but it wasn’t like having something curried. With that in mind, we think that we’ll have to add the horseradish to the sauce that was called for in the original recipe. And, as with most of Thomas Keller’s recipes, it seems as though there are a lot of steps, but none of them is particularly difficult; just take your time, and you’ll be able to make this gratin, too. An easy five stars.