pretty good cauliflower leek gratin
Cook's Illustrated takes a sort of
physicist approach to cooking. They focus on a small number of recipes in each issue and
completely tear them apart, test many variations, and draw analytic conclusions from the
process about the best way to proceed and why. Usually bob snags it on impulse when
he sees a topic that touches some food nerve. It should really be a subscription mag but
the dr bob team is already unable to deal with the current load. Best New York Cheesecake
was the hook that got bob to pull the issue with this recipe. Leeks are a dr bob cooking
team weakness and cauliflower is a substantial veggie favorite that needs partners. This
one showed promise.
Oscar night 2002 provided the occasion to implement while the issue was still current,
an unusual event in an endless post-it marking process of recipe after recipe that life
never seems to allow time for revisiting. Ani was busy with a work presentation, so it was
a solo effort. Living up to its expectation, accompanied by a wonderful Cuvee `Le Charnay'
Menetou-Salon by Jean-Max Roger, a French white wine we'll probably never see again,
picked for us by our wine outlaw facilitators at the Princeton Corkscrew. Coincidentally a major
location for the current Oscar contender in six categories. Princeton that is. Princeton
math in particular. A story bob knew something about from firsthand experience.
We modified this recipe out of laziness, taking a shortcut with the topping, reducing
the cream fat content and therefore disqualifying our version as "the best
ever". But "pretty good" is not a bad alternative for us impatient
- 1 large cauliflower, trimmed into small pieces
- 2 T unsalted butter
- 1 medium shallot, mince (about 2 T)
- 3 small leeks, cleaned and chopped finely
- 1 T all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 c light cream
- pinch nutmeg
- pinch cayenne
- 1/8 t freshly ground black pepper
- 1 t minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 c gruyere cheese, grated
- breadcrumbs to coat top
- 2 T parmigiano
- spray olive oil to dampen breadcrumbs
- Boil pasta water in the usual pot, add 1 T salt, and throw in the cauliflower pieces as
if they were pasta. Cook about 3 or 4 minutes until tender but still crunchie inside (al
dente?). Drain and rinse under cold water in a colander until cooled down (to prevent them
from continuing on to a mush state). Leave them there for now.
- Sauté the shallot and leeks in butter until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the flour until combined, about 1 minute.
- Whisk in the cream and bring to a boil.
- Stir in the spices and gruyere cheese until incorporated. Remove from heat.
- Gently stir in the cauliflower (so you don't pulverize it) until evenly combined and
then dump into a baking dish.
- Sprinkle with the parmigiano, then a coating of breadcrumbs and spray with olive oil
spray to wet down the breadcrumbs.
- Bake in a preheated 450º oven for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.
- Serve immediately.
- The Best Cauliflower Gratin, by Julia Collin, April 2002, Cook's Illustrated, pp.1819, leek
- A Beautiful Mind, Oscar for Best Picture 2002.
Film by Ron Howard (Best
Director) with ex-Gladiator Oscar winner Russell Crowe as the Nobel prize winning
mathematician John Nash from the
book by Silvia Nasar. Read the book.