Suzi's Blog

Potato, Cauliflower and Camembert Gratin

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This post finishes the series on what we had for Easter dinner last Sunday. I’ve saved the best for last.

If you google “what does cauliflower taste like” you have a quick descent into a tar pit. There are plenty of discussions, not about what it tastes like or why, but what to do about the flavor. How can you make it taste like mashed potatoes? What cheese should you add? Some say there is no taste to cauliflower at all. Some say it stinks, like the cabbage it is descended from

I find cauliflower to be distinctive, not unappealing, but certainly subject to flavor enhancement through the addition of dairy. [Which could be said for just about anything!]

Potato gratins are one of the premier sins on the planet. They are not healthy. There are addictive. They are relished. And sometimes, sometimes, they can be just a little over the top. Are you eating potato or cheese? If you have had a heavy hand in the kitchen preparing a gratin, there may be a tad more cheese than you intended.

Or that the recipe call for. Is there really a difference between a half cup and whole cup? Actually, yes. But once that cheese has begun to melt, there is no retreat.

Australian guru Curtis Stone has an excellent solution. Use lots of finely diced [and then blended and sieved] cauliflower to cook with potatoes. I find cauliflower to have mild, distinctive flavor and you still sense it here but it’s a refinement and a complement to the cheese in the gratin.

To be honest, Suzen did not use Camembert — although this recipe calls for a modest 4 ounces. Instead we had some excellent goat cheese and made the substitution. This is part of the recipe where you, too, have room to experiment. Actually, I find the tastes of cauliflower and goat cheese both oddly similar. I taste them somewhere in the back of my mouth, surely with amplification from the scents that have passed up my nose. These are distinctive, complex flavors, quite unlike your simple “sweet” or “salt” tastes. Together, goat cheese in modest amounts and cauliflower in abundance yield a gratin that is unmistakably potato and wondrously, smoothly complex.

Leftovers, if you should have some, are equally wonderful.

Curtis suggests this gratin to pair with grilled pork chops, an excellent idea. We had the gratin with a slow roasted shoulder of lamb. The gratin is made to side up to meat muscular in body and flavor.

A great meal is often made from creating similarities or creating contrasts. This warm gratin can still be served on a summer night, nestled next to a steak right off the barbeque. Or matched with salmon that has been cooked and chilled.

One final note. There is liquid here, a combination of milk and heavy cream. Follow the recipe’s instructions and use just enough. We had well over half left over and wisely decided not to drown our potatoes. Yes, dairy is good and, yes, there can be too much dairy.

Potato, Cauliflower and Camembert Gratin

Yield: serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more the baking dish
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 large sprigs of thyme
  • 2 cups finely chopped cauliflower
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 4 ounces Camembert cheese with rind, cut into large pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 ¾ pounds baking potatoes [russets], peeled and sliced into ⅛-inch thick slices

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Lightly butter a 3-quart shallow baking dish.

To make the gratin: Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add the butter and stir until melted. Add the onions, garlic, and thyme and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are tender but have not taken on any color. Add the cauliflower and cook for about 6 minutes, stirring often, or until softened. Add the cream and milk and bring to a simmer. Add the cheese and stir until it melts, then remove from the heat and discard the thyme stems.

Working in batches, puree the mixture in a blender; return to the pot. Season generously to taste with salt and pepper.

Stir the potato slices into the hot cream mixture to coat. Spoon 1 cup of the cream mixture into the baking dish. Spread the potatoes and the remaining cream mixture evenly in the dish. Cover with aluminum foil and put on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for about 1 hour, or until a knife can be inserted easily into the potatoes. Uncover the dish, raise the oven temperature to 400°F, and continue baking for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown on top. Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 to 20 minutes before serving.

 

Source: What’s for Dinner by Curtis Stone

Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 18-55MM Lens, F/5.6, 1/40th second, ISO-2000

 

 

Easter Dinner Ideas [Or Other Spring and Summer Feasts]

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Yes, I know, Easter was last Sunday. But there will be an Easter again, short of a meteor strike. And there are other times during the spring and summer that you may be celebrating. Here is the menu we had on Sunday. The next few days will see a post with each recipe. Suzen and I spent Easter morning shopping and Easter afternoon in the kitchen. It was a perfect holiday, complete with dinner guests and our table set for this feast.

Menu for a Special Sunday Meal

  • Chipotle and Cheddar Biscuits with Honey Butter
  • Red Pepper Hummus with Toasted Home Made Bread
  • Shoulder of Lamb with Salsa Verde
  • Potato Gratin with Cauliflower and Cheese of Your Choice

Oh, no dessert? Our guests bought a fruit tart and we had some chocolate gelato on hand. I did have in mind a very special chocolate cookie that will appear here soon. Truth is, after four hours in the kitchen, Suzen and I were low on gas. Planning on doing this meal or another feast? Then you want to space out the effort, ideally over 2-3 days. Biscuits and hummus the day before, for example. We all want quality for our dinner parties and that quality quite simply takes a bit of time.

To conclude, about that meteor strike. I was not joking. Today is Earth Day and this evening in Seattle at the incredible Museum of Flight three astronauts will present evidence about the possibility of a major meteor strike that could wipe out a city. Remember that meteor over Siberia last year? That explosion is now calibrated at a half a megaton. Tonight, the presentation will show that the chances of a major disaster are 3 to 10 times more likely than previously thought. New sensor information, originally developed to detect man-made nuclear weapons tests, confirms that we have far more collisions with large objects from space. There are lots and lots of uncharted meteors in the 100-meter range out there. Close encounters are common, actual collisions much more likely than previously thought. More and more of a growing planet population is in urban areas that sprawl. Target creep.

If I were you, I would order up my lamb soon.