Cauliflower and Fennel Gratin  
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoon flour
2 cups milk
1/4 tsp salt
a head of cauliflower
1 large fennel bulb, including fronds
2/3 cup grated gruyere or comte cheese
2 or 3 thick slices of country bread
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons butter

Making the Béchamel: Heat the milk up to a simmer and then turn off the heat. Melt the butter on low heat in a medium sauce pan, then add the flour and cook for 2 minutes, constantly stirring the flour into the butter. Add a small amount of milk (about 2 tablespoons worth) and stir in. Repeat two or three times. At this point stir in the rest of the milk in 1/2 cup amounts, stirring constantly. You can turn up the heat, and keep on stirring regularly until the sauce thickens to the consistency of heavy cream. Turn off the heat.

Prepping the Gratin: Make breadcrumbs by ripping the bread into smaller pieces and pulsing in a food processor. Spread out on a baking tray. Butter a baking dish (separate from the tray) for the gratin with the 2 tablespoons, then chop up and scatter the remaining butter over the bread crumbs in the baking tray. Turn on the broiler and cook the breadcrumbs on the lowest rack (or set oven to a lower heat) until they are just turning golden. Remove from the oven and stir the breadcrumbs around. Reserve. Cut off the tops of the fennel bulb, slice off a thin piece of the bottom, and discard the outer layer if really tough. Save and finely chop the fine fennel fronds from the tops. Cut the bulb in half and then slice into 1/2 inch thick pieces. Cut or break the cauliflower into bite-size florets. Scatter the fennel and cauliflower around the baking dish — you want enough vegetables to fill the dish. Drizzle a little olive oil on top, sprinkle some coarse salt around, and mix the vegetables with two spoons. Place under the broiler near the top of the oven for a short period to lightly brown the tops of the vegetables (keep an eye on this and do not let it burn). Remove from the oven and turn the heat down to 350F. Grind some fresh pepper on top and mix the vegetables again. Cover the fennel and cauliflower with the béchamel, then sprinkle the cheese on top, and then the breadcrumbs. Sprinkle the nutmeg and the chopped fennel fronds on top (no more than a tablespoon of the fennel fronds). Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until golden on top.
Rancho Piccolo      |     1120 Commerce Avenue # 7, Atwater, CA 95301      |     (209) 201-1053      |

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