Our second installment of “Cooking with Claire” is live now and has the perfect recipe for spring!
IN PRAISE OF MY FATHER’S GARDEN
My father, who was not known for his extravagance, religious or otherwise, performed nonetheless a few miracles in his life: The first one was marrying my mother who opened my taste buds to culinary feasts. Then came, a few years apart, the birth of my three older sisters who taught me everything else, from reading to riding a bicycle, thus ensuring me a very happy childhood. His last miracle was acquiring, as life annuity, an old dilapidated farmhouse, 15 km away from our town, with enough land around it so that he could plant dozens of fruit trees and a vegetable garden big enough to feed us year around.
This is where we spent our school vacations, and where he toiled on his days off, bringing back home on Sunday evening, flats and baskets full of fruit ripened on the branch or on the vine, and vegetables still half coated with the soil they came from.
From him, I got my taste for strawberries sun-soaked so slowly on the plant that they shone a dark Merlot color when ready to eat, and the thrill of biting into an apple just picked up from a tree named “Winter Banana” which fruit tasted exactly like the last part of its name.
Yes, I still remember bright orange carrots and perfectly round cabbages of various colors, pungent leeks and potatoes of all different sizes, but my favorite vegetable is still the cauliflower and my mother knew exactly what to do with it.
Cauliflower in White Cheese Sauce “Au Gratin”
Cauliflower and Potatoes
- 1 whole cauliflower separated into florets
- 4 or 5 Yukon gold potatoes (more or less to your taste) peeled and quartered
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 stick stick of unsalted butter + 2 tablespoons of regular oil
- 2 tbsp of regular flour
- 1 Vegetable cube (I buy the low sodium brand from the health food store)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup grated Jarlsberg cheese
- 2 garlic cloves, grated
- 1 cup warmed up milk
- 1 cup reserved steaming liquid, more if needed
Cauliflower and Potatoes
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Pour water - about two cups - in a six-quart stainless steel pan.
- Place the cauliflower and the potatoes in a folding steamer and set the steamer in the pan (It will fit right in).
- Steam until very tender, then lift the mixture up from the steaming tray and fill a buttered two-quart oven-proof dish with it, mashing with a fork, if necessary, pieces which are too big.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Reserve the steaming liquid.
- Place the butter and the oil in a saucepan on very low heat until melted. Don’t let it boil.
- Add the flour and cook it, mixing it with a wire whisk until fragrant but not brown (no more than fifteen minutes).
- While the flour mixture is cooking, warm up the milk in one saucepan, and the steaming liquid with the vegetable cube in the steaming pot, so that the cube melts. Keep both milk and liquid on very low heat until ready to use.
- When the flour mixture has become fragrant, pour on it one cup of the steaming liquid while whisking, then the cup of hot milk. If too thick, add more steaming liquid. Keep whisking until smooth.
- Stirring with a wooden spoon, add both cheeses, the garlic and salt and pepper to taste.
- Cover the cauliflower/potato mixture with the sauce, sprinkle extra Jarlsberg/Parmesan on top and bake at 350 degrees F until bubbly and hot (about 1/2 hour). Turn oven to broiler just until lightly browned on top.
You can eat this dish as is with a green salad. Perfect for lunch!
Additions to the cauliflower/potato mixture:
Crisp bacon bits
Bits of fried vegetarian sausages
Anything that will give color to the dish like green peas
Note: My mother would have used one cheese only: probably a Swiss cheese. I adapted the recipe to my taste because I think of the Jarlsberg/Parmesan mix as a perfect union in any kind of dish, but you certainly can use any cheese you like.