Friday, 15 April 2011

Romanesco-Potato-Gratin for Noobs

A while ago Max and I made delicious Romanesco-Potato-Gratin. In case you’re unfamiliar with romanesco broccoli, it looks and tastes more or less like a mongrel between cauliflower and broccoli, and also it looks like fractals. It’s really beautiful.
Now, the recipe here is not really anything special – pretty straightforward gratin stuff, but I thought, I might as well include a recipe with the pictures, in case any of you want to try it and don’t like to do their gratins improv style off the top of their heads like I usually do.

To feed 2 hungry persons you will need:
1 head of romanesco broccoli
an adequate amount of potatoes
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
500 ml/1 pint milk
2-4 cloves of garlic
a mixture of herbs after your own taste (parsley, basic, thyme, chives, oregano, majoram), fresh or dried
salt, pepper, nutmeg
200 g grated cheese (pick a sort that melts well, like mozarella, emmental, whatever you like really)

First, parboil the potatoes in a large saucepan with plenty of salted water until just about tender. The time this requires depends very much on the size of the potatoes you’re using, so it’s best to check how hard the potatoes are with a fork every once in a while. It should take about 10 to 15 minutes. They’re going to be cooked some more once they’re in the oven, so they don’t have to be completely done when you take them out.
While the potatoes are on the hub, cut the romanesco broccoli into small florets. Best do this by turning it upside down, and cutting down and around the main stem with a large knife. The florets will naturally separate, or will require only a little more help to come apart. If you want you can chop the stem into small pieces and use it, or you can discard it. Then blanch the romanesco in boiling, salted water until just about tender - I guess 5 minutes should do. The florets should be less crunchy than when raw, but still firm when you take them out of the water. Don’t overcook them, or they will lose their beautiful shapes and turn into mash.

You can then fill your casserole dish with layer of sliced potatoes and romanesco florets, as pictured above.
It’s also high time to preheat your oven to around 200°C/390°F. You’ll have to look up the equivalent of that in gas oven terms, because I have NO EXPERIENCE WHATSOEVER with those.
Then, make the bechamel sauce. For this, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium to low heat, then mix in the flour, stirring constantly to get rid of any lumps. It should have the consistency of a smooth paste, neither too runny nor too thick. If you find either is the case, you can add more flour or butter, respectively. If you notice that the mixture is browning too quickly, lift the saucepan off the heat and continue stirring. If the consistency is right, stir in the milk. Start with a small amount, whisk it through to remove any lumps. Then add the rest of the milk, stirring constantly. Add crushed garlic, and dried herbs – if you are using them – to the sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Continue cooking, and stirring for 5 to 10 minutes, until the sauce has thickened considerably. At the very end of the cooking process, add the nutmeg, and fresh herbs – if you are using them.

When your sauce looks something like this, it is ready to meet Mssrs. Potato and Romanesco.

Introduce them!

And to make sure they get along, add the amazing social lubricant known as cheese. Sprinkled evenly across the top, it will guarantee maximum cohesion once things heat up. Which they will, as soon as you pop the whole thing into the oven.

Take out the casserole after 15 to 20 minutes or whenever you see that the cheese has begun just to brown on top, which is the moment when the gratin will be most delicious.

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