We spent labor day in a rented cabin in the Tahoe region. We had a state of the art kitchen at our disposal, a warm cozy evening for dining in, a few vegetables in the fridge, but no spices whatsoever. What’s an Indian cook to do?
I love gratins — the creamy cheesy crusty casseroles. I was first introduced to gratins in an strange fashion — a pure vegetarian Gujarati restaurant in Bombay had a ‘Vegetable Au Gratin’ on the menu and it was delicious. Restaurants in India have this strange quirk where the advertised cuisine hardly matters — a South Indian dosa restaurant will have an entire Indian Chinese menu, and throw in a club sandwich as well. They don’t seem to believe in specialization of cuisine.
Sort of like the proprietor here at The Odd Pantry you say? Hmm.
At any rate, this is a pure vegetarian gratin, and it is built in layers of potato, cauliflower and corn…all vegetables with distinct flavors that nevertheless that have a certain savoriness that unites them.
The Tahoe gratin
- 1 large red potato or 2 medium
- Half a head of cauliflower
- Half a pound bag of frozen corn kernels
- One and half cup milk
- 1 – 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 – 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour (same amount as butter)
- salt to taste
- A 2″ by 2″ by 2″ block of good sharp cheddar cheese
In this dish I precook all the vegetables to minimize and equalize the gratin baking time. The other principle I follow is to salt each layer on its own.
First, the potatoes. Slice the potato as thin as you can get them (eighth of an inch). Put them in a pyrex container, add salt enough for the potatoes, and submerge them in half a cup milk. Microwave for 2 – 3 minutes and then set aside.
Next the cauliflower. Slice the florets into quarter inch thick slices, put them in a bowl, add some salt, and once again, microwave for 2 – 3 minutes and set aside.
Next the corn. Same routine — put in a bowl, add salt enough for the corn, and microwave. With the frozen corn all we are trying to do is thaw them.
Vegetables are ready. Let’s make the bechamel sauce. Heat the butter in a small pot. When it melts, add the flour and stir, stir, stir on gentle heat. It will foam and bubble and perhaps turn a shade darker. Now put in the milk. Stir with your wooden spoon for dear life as you slowly pour the milk in. You may need to resort to a whisk, the idea is we are trying to not have any lumps. Keep the heat gentle. You can also pour in any extra milk from the potato cooking bowl. Once all the milk has gone in, and the mixture is smooth, you can up the heat and bring to a boil. Add salt enough for this sauce.
Once it comes to a boil, turn it off after a minute. We are ready to compose the layers. In a flat baking dish, first layer in the potato slices, trying to keep even thickness. Next put on the cauliflower florets in a layer. Next the corn. Now pour the bechamel sauce all over the vegetables, pushing and prying with a spatula to get it everywhere.
Cut the cheese up into tiny cubes. Cover the top of the casserole with cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes at 425 F. In the last 10 minutes, take the foil off to get it to brown. If you want more of a brown crust, stick it under the broiler for 5 extra minutes.
Here are some other ideas for other vegetables to add to the mix: peas, leeks, roasted zucchini.