Getting a picky 4 year old to eat vegetables can be daunting. I have tried telling mine that eagles eat carrots to see in the distance—and that rabbits are pissed off at them for stealing their favourite food—nothing gives: kiddo likes cream of vegetable soup but, beyond that, he needs six degrees of separation between the actual veggie and the final dish to even agree to try.
Case in point, this cauliflower gratin. God knows, it’s as classic as they come, but kiddo loves it. And the mom in me wants to hit the tarmac and kiss away with papal fervour every time. Now you don’t have to cook everything from scratch like I do. I’m not being nostalgic or anything. I just don’t like or trust processed foods anymore.
1) They’re full of preservatives and flavour enhancers and binders and obscure additives with more letters than my name and I am supposed to believe that none are harmful to my health (?) but no one is going to convince me that adding a gazillion of them to the food I eat is not going to harm me over the long run with exponential exposure. (Hum, apologies for the never-ending sentence but this topic can make me ranting mad.)
2) I don’t trust many food manufacturers. And certainly not those who import ingredients from China. I prefer my melamine in furniture, thank you. Actually, not even there…
All of which is to say that you are free to take shortcuts, I am not one to judge. You can use store-bought white sauce and dry breadcrumbs. But for what it’s worth, here is my paranoid-mom-happy-child take on it.
By the way, even from scratch, this recipe takes only 30 minutes. Get out your stopwatch.
Cauliflower gratin with ham
Note: You can skip the ham to make this recipe the perfect “Meatless Monday” vegetarian dish but ham is a win-win with picky toddlers. Choose ham that is not too “juicy” or it will make your gratin too liquid.
• 500 ml (2 cups) 2% or whole milk
• 1 peeled garlic clove, sliced in 2
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 large cauliflower cut into flowerets
• 45 ml (3 tbsp) butter
• 30 ml (2 tbsp) all-purpose flour
• 1 pinch of nutmeg
• 250 ml (1 cup) grated Gruyere cheese
• 1 slice of bread (white or whole wheat) or small section of French baguette with crust
• salt and fresh ground pepper
• diced ham (optional)
Initial prep measuring ingredients, grating cheese and breaking cauliflower: 5 minutes.
Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).
1. Pour milk into a small pot, add garlic and bay leaf, heat gently to infuse. Do not let milk boil over. (10 minutes)
2. Cook cauliflower in salted boiling water or steam until crispy-tender (not more than 5 minutes or so). Drain and set aside.
3. Cut bread into chunks and grind into rough breadcrumbs using a mini-chopper, the kind that usually comes with an immersion blender for example.
Back to the stopwatch:
4. Melt butter in a pan without letting it brown. Sprinkle with flour and cook while stirring with wooden spoon or whisk. (3 minutes)
5. Strain milk and gradually whisk into butter-flour mixture. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cook until béchamel thickens. (5 minutes)
6. Drain cauliflower and transfer to a gratin dish. Top with ham, béchamel, breadcrumbs and cheese. (2 minutes)
7. Bake in oven until sauce is bubbly and gratin turns golden. (5 minutes)