Feb 072015

I cannot believe that I have not posted a single pairing yet in 2015. It is purely a reflection of how swamped I’ve been at work — no time to write here thus far this year. But trust me, there has been wine. And cooking. And a fair amount of bourbon, too. And a favorite new Chai tea discovery. A really easy, really good spiced lentil soup. And a quick muesli technique that kicks off most of my mornings lately. More about all that sooner than later, I hope.

But for now, let me wish you all a happy 2015 with this decadent gratin I made last night. A favorite friend came over for dinner, and this was the menu: filets and this gratin, along with a simple spinach salad, a loaf of warm-from-the-oven ciabatta, and a round of ripe, silky, woodsy Jasper Hill Harbison.

The gratin is pretty basic — simple to make, but rich and satisfying. I mean, who am I kidding? You could probably pour this sauce over chunks of cardboard, and I’d give it a go.

Parboiled cauliflower is blanketed in a Gruyere cheese sauce, topped with buttery crumbs and baked until bubbly and golden. I go light on the typical nutmeg addition, because a little goes a long way with me. But by all means, feel free to add more if you like.

Cauliflower Gratin

Pairing: Lalande-de-Pomerol

I was actually thinking Burgundy, but saw this Chateau La Croix Bellevue 2004 Lalande-de-Pomerol in the wine cooler — and it just spoke to me. Lalande-de-Pomerol is an appellation north of Pomerol that offers Merlot-driven wines with structure similar to Pomerol, but with less richness and finesse, as well as much lower price tags. This one is a perfect example of that — with tightly-wound red and black berry fruit, gravelly mineral notes, a touch of rustic earthiness and a moderate finish and complexity. At about $30, I think it’s a great deal on good Bordeaux.

Recipe: Cauliflower Gratin

1 large head cauliflower, cut into large florets
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
small pinch nutmeg — less than 1/8 teaspoon
1 cup grated Gruyere cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/8 cup unflavored, dried bread crumbs

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple of big pinches of salt and cauliflower. Cook for 5 minutes — you want it tender but not soft. Drain.

Preheat oven to 375F.

Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium low heat, reduce heat to low and keep hot.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Pour in the hot milk, bring back to a low boil, and cook — whisking constantly — for 1 or 2 minutes, until thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in half the Gruyere and all of the Parmesan, along with the salt, pepper and small pinch of nutmeg.

Pour about 1/3 of the sauce into the bottom of a dish large enough to hold everything. Arrange the drained cauliflower over that, and then pour the rest of the sauce over the cauliflower.

Combine the bread crumbs and the remaining Gruyere; sprinkle this mixture over the top of the sauce. Melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter and drizzle that over the crumb-Gruyere mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown on top. Serve hot.

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