Gratin for dinner

Tuesday 10 January

As I reached into the fridge for the head of red cabbage for a quick slaw yesterday, a riot of cauliflower, kale, and leeks, all precariously wedged among the milk and yogurt pots for lack of space in the vegetable drawers, tumbled into my hands.

So instead, I made gratin. And on a wet, wintry January evening, it was much the better choice.

The trick with gratin is to not be deterred by making béchamel. It always goes much quicker than I fear. I usually eyeball it. I use a good third of a bar of butter (which would come to about 100 grams), let it melt completely, then add the flour while constantly stirring — a few tablespoons, just enough to absorb all the melted butter. I cook the clumped butter and flour for a minute or two while stirring, before adding the milk. This can be done all at once or little by little, either method works. I usually do it gradually since I don’t measure the ingredients beforehand. As the milk meets the flour/butter mixture it will first stiffen (or become clumpy is adding a lot of milk at once) but whisk briskly and the béchamel will soon become silky. When it reaches the desired consistency, anywhere from lava thick to gravy thin, add a generous pinch of salt, black pepper, nutmeg, and perhaps some grated cheese.

Cauliflower, kale, and leek gratin

1 head of cauliflower
1 bunch of lacinato kale
3 to 4 leeks
1 clove of garlic
Butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the béchamel:
Butter
Flour
Milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Nutmeg

Grated cheese (gruyère or cheddar or parmiggiano)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F).

First, make the béchamel:

In a saucepan, melt a large pat of butter completely (I usually use about a 1/3 of a bar, about 100 grams). Stirring constantly, add just enough flour to absorb all the melted butter (a few tablespoons). Cook the clumped butter and flour for a minute or two while still stirring, then start adding milk. The milk can be added all at once or little by little, either methods work. I usually do it gradually since I don’t measure the ingredients beforehand. As the milk meets the flour/butter mixture it will first stiffen (or become clumpy is adding a lot of milk at once) but whisk briskly and the béchamel will soon become silky. When it reaches the desired consistency, anywhere from lava thick to gravy thin, add a generous pinch of salt, black pepper, and lots of nutmeg. Optionally, melt a small handful of grated cheese into the béchamel.

Cut up the cauliflower into small florets and wash in cold water. Trim off the hard stalks of the kale, cut into pieces about 4 to 5 cm (1 1/2 inches) long, wash, and strain as much of the excess water as possible. Trim (top and tail) the leeks, remove the tough outer layer, and slice thinly. Wash in cold water and strain thoroughly.

Rub a large ovenproof dish all over with the (peeled) garlic clove, then butter the dish.

Scatter the vegetables into the dish and toss with a generous pinch of salt and ground black pepper.

Pour the béchamel over the vegetables as evenly as possible, making sure to reach the edges, then cover generously with grated cheese.

Bake in the oven for at least 45 minutes (up to an hour) until brown and bubbly. Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

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