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Cauliflower and Parmesan Gratin

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Few things crank up the comfort factor quite like a potato. But whenever I opt for a starchy spud, I often ask myself whether I’ve explored every other option. The vegetable world is such a vast place, after all. Recently, I’ve grown extremely fond of the cauliflower, not just as a super-nutritious potato alternative, but because it’s so versatile! This dish is that show-off, cheffy kind of crowd pleaser that I believe anyone can pull off – and that makes use of many of the cauliflower’s talents. Don’t be intimidated by the plating, it’s essentially a well portioned and decorated tray bake. All it takes is time. So, when looking for something new to make the next time you have people over for a hearty winter feast, this is the one to beat.

Cauliflower and Parmesan Gratin with pickled wild mushrooms

Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes, plus overnight compressing | Cooking time: 2 hours 15 minutes | Serves: 6

INGREDIENTS

for the cauliflower gratin

130 ml (125 g) butter, salted

3 sprigs thyme

80 g parmesan, grated

2 cauliflower heads, whole

to taste Maldon salt

 

for the cauliflower purée

300 g cauliflower

32 ml (30 g) butter, salted

250 ml cream

2 sprigs fresh thyme

3 basil leaves

10 ml Maldon salt

5 ml black pepper, ground

for the parmesan Catalan

200 ml cream

1 sprig thyme, leaves picked

5 ml Maldon salt 

5 ml black pepper, ground

140 g parmesan cheese, grated  

3 egg yolks

 

for the mushrooms

100 g shimeji mushrooms, sliced 2 cm long

100 g portabellini mushrooms, sliced paper thin

50 ml olive oil

60 ml balsamic vinegar

5 ml lemon zest

to taste maldon salt

for the garnishes

 

3 cauliflower florets

18 basil leaves

300 ml canola oil

to taste maldon salt

METHOD

for the cauliflower gratin

Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Use two square baking tins (20 cm x 20 cm) or baking tins of the same size to ensure they will fit on top of one another when pressing the gratin overnight. Prepare the first baking tin by lining it with non-stick baking paper and spray thoroughly with cooking spray. Place the butter and thyme in a small saucepot and melt over low heat to allow the butter to infuse. Slice the cauliflower heads in half (lengthwise) and thinly slice the florets with a mandolin. Layer the cauliflower slices to cover 0.5 cm of the tray, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with parmesan and salt.  Continue layering until the baking tin is filled up to three-quarters, Make sure to generously brush the last layer of the gratin with melted butter. Cover the gratin with non-stick baking paper and place the second tin on top to compress. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender. Remove from the oven and place in the fridge overnight, weighing it down with a heavy pot. Remove from the fridge and portion into rectangles (6 cm x 10 cm). Heat a non-stick pan over medium-high heat and sear each rectangle on all sides until golden.

 

for the cauliflower purée

Finely chop the cauliflower off-cuts from the gratin and store it in a bowl. In a large saucepan start by melting the butter and adding the chopped cauliflower and thyme, cook over medium heat while stirring occasionally. Allow the cauliflower to cook thoroughly before adding the cream and basil. Simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, remove the herbs from the cream using kitchen tongs or a slotted spoon. Add the mixture together with the salt and pepper in a blender and blend until smooth and a velvet consistency. Pass through a sieve if you prefer an even smoother puree. Adjust the seasoning and place in a squeezy bottle, alternatively use a spoon to make dollops on the plate when serving.

for the parmesan Catalan

In a medium bowl whisk the egg yolks together and set aside. In a small saucepot bring the cream and thyme to a boil over medium heat, once the cream starts to boil, remove from the heat and temper the eggs by whisking the warm cream mixture into the eggs. Return the mixture to the pot and cook over low heat while stirring with a spatula or wooden spoon. Once the mixture starts to thicken add the parmesan cheese in batches and whisk until completely melted.

for the mushrooms

Whisk the olive oil, lemon zest and balsamic together in a bowl, adjust the seasoning with some lemon juice and salt if needed. In a small saucepot half filled with water and a pinch of salt, bring to the boil, and blanch the prepared  mushrooms (separately)  for 3 seconds, and add to the balsamic pickle to absorb the flavour quickly.

for the garnish

Preheat the oil to 170 °C. Deep-fry the thinly sliced cauliflower chips and basil separately in oil and season with salt as soon as they come out of the fryer. When deep frying basil make sure to take caution, as the water content in basil will cause the oil to splatter. A tip for this, place the basil leaves in a sieve (not too many leaves at a time) and gently lower the sieve into the oil, and stand back quickly.

To assemble

Add a spoon full of cauliflower puree at the bottom and place the warm cauliflower gratin on top add small dollops of the puree and Catalan and garnish with the pickled mushrooms, deep-fried cauliflower, and basil. Sprinkle a small amount of Maldon salt over the gratin just before serving.

TIP: Serve the parmesan Catalan at room temperature, and the puree warm.

Stellenzicht Acheulean Chardonnay

With the luxury of time, Stellenzicht has finely curated a Chardonnay of substantial depth and magnitude. The wine has been separately fermented in both French Oak Barrels and Amphora Clay pots and left on the lees for about a year before the two wines were blended to shape a rich profile of playful aromatics, stewed stone fruits and lively acidity. With only 540 bottles produced, every bottle begs to be appreciated for the time and scarcity in which it has been produced.

Chardonnay and cauliflower are very similar in that both are seen as an ingredient that makes a good starting point onto which we can add layers of our own design. It’s in this particularly considered vinous design that this recipe has found its match. I find that the simple wild mushrooms pickled in balsamic vinegar are at home with the fullness of the Chardonnay. Further compliments are shared between the saucy parmesan Catalan and the bright stone fruit acidity. If you’re going the extra mile to spoil your guests, this is the recipe and this is the wine.

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