It’s cloudy, dark, gloomy, with a dullness that seems to be seeping into everything, leeching out the happinessssss…….no, there are no Dementors about, (Sorry bout the Harry Potter reference 😀 ) but it sure makes me lethargic. After much procrastination, and debating whether to sleep the day off or get off my butt and cook, I’ve decided to cook.
So with Sia’s Cheap Thrills on at full blast and armed with a six-pack of caffeine-infused drinks (or so it feels), I decided upon a one-pot meal that needs minimal work (unless you count grating cheese equals to heavy work); Veg Au Gratin is my comfort food of choice. This French classic is perfect for cold, rainy, overcast days when you’re chilled to the bone and need a lift-me-up…of the buttery, cheesy variety 😉
The most common form of Au Gratin involves the use of potatoes only (Potato Au Gratin), or so I’ve heard. But I’ve not been keen on potatoes for a while now, which is rather sacrilegious, considering I’m a true-blue Bengali, and we Bongs survive on potatoes 😛 Also, the potatoes this season are waxy; I don’t fancy new potatoes.
One can of course, use meat or chicken, but once again, I was feeling very non-carnivorous. Plus, I had a bunch of veggies that would be perfect in a casserole! Cauliflower, beans, carrots and some corn are the choice of veggies I’ve gone for here.
The term ‘Gratin’ stems from the French word ‘gratter’ which means ‘to grate’ or ‘to scrape’…and to ‘gratinate’ means to create a grated crust that can be either of cheese, breadcrumbs, or both, which is then broiled/baked or grilled until golden-brown. The recipe is fairly simple and involves the use of a simple white sauce; Béchamel sauce, one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine.
Now the five French sauces (Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole, Sauce Tomat and Hollandaise), are packed with flavours and each, when added to respective dishes, enhance the taste of the same. However, Béchamel sauce can be quite bland on its own…and that’s why, I have taken the liberty of adding my own twist to this classic dish. You can keep the sauce to vegetable ratio as per your preference here, and also adjust thickness; I like mine creamy and slightly pourable, rather than it being too dry (as that can happen easily while baking/grilling). I’ve also used a mix of breadcrumbs and Mozzarella here; you can skip the breadcrumbs and mix some Parmesan if you wish.
Vegetable Au Gratin
- Cauliflower – 1 and 1/2 cup, cut into bite-sized florets
- Carrots – 1 cup, diced
- Beans – 1 cup, cut into bite-sized pieces
- Peas – 1 cup, frozen or fresh
- Corn – 1 cup, frozen or fresh
For the sauce:
- Butter – 2 tbsp
- Plain flour – 2 tbsp (All-purpose/Maida)
- Whole/full-fat milk – 2 cups
- Garlic – 10 to 12 cloves, sliced
- Black pepper – 1 to 2 tsp, crushed
- Salt – as per taste
- Nutmeg powder – 1/4 tsp
- Red Chili flakes – 1 tsp
- Grated cheese – 1/4 cup (Amul processed cheesed)
For the topping:
- Breadcrumbs – 1/2 cup
- Mozzarella cheese – 1/2 cup, grated
- Butter – 1 tbsp, grated
- Salt – just a pinch
Prepare the veggies:
- Blanch or steam the cauliflower in a large pot of salted water until it’s tender, but retains a slight bite.
- Drain and keep aside.
- Boil the rest of the veggies (skip boiling frozen veggies/peas/corn, and simply blanch them), in a pressure cooker with some salt.
- Drain and keep aside with the cauliflower.
Prepare the sauce:
- Heat butter in a pan and add the garlic.
- Let the garlic turn golden, and quickly add the flour, using a wire whisk to fry it until the flour turns golden and frothy; this is your roux (pronounced rue), or the base for your sauce.
- Add the milk in a thin drizzle (use room temp milk), continuously whisking the sauce; this helps to keep the sauce lump-free.
- Once all the milk is added, season the sauce and keep whisking.
- Cook for 4 to 5 mins, and check if the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Take if off the heat and whisk in the cheese.
- In the same pan with the sauce, add the boiled vegetables and mix well with sauce.
- Preheat the oven to 200 C or 400 F.
- In a separate bowl/plate, mix the breadcrumbs with the mozzarella cheese, salt, and herbs if using any.
- Lay the veggies+sauce mixture in an oven-proof baking dish/gratin dish, and tap it on the counter to level it out.
- Top with the breadcrumb-cheese mixture, and grated butter evenly on top.
- Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until you see the edges turning golden.
- Shift to ‘grill’ or broil mode, and grill the gratin for another 6 to 8 mins or until the top is evenly browned.
- Garnish with some finely chopped parsley and serve hot with bread.