Oh BABY. This decadent gratin is going to make you feel so BAD, but in the very best of ways. I kind of wanted to marry myself after making it, I’m not going to lie. It is the perfect romantic, candlelit meal that won’t leave you feeling heavy after- it is seasonal, and really sexes up two modest, seemingly boring vegetables of the season- cauliflower and Brussel sprouts. It is gluten free, grain free, meatless, free of starchy, heavy carbs, and full of gut-healing things like coconut milk and chicken broth, and can be dairy free. Whew! The best part is that, dietary restrictions aside, it is truly HEAVENLY and is made primarily of pretty basic ingredients. The only downside is that it is a bit labour intensive- it uses quite a few dishes- however the end result is really worth the effort. You can clean as you go, or get someone else to do the dishes after, because you did cook a fabulous meal after all- it’s the least they can do! Make it on the weekend when you have a little more time and you want to have something extra special.
So a little about this recipe: first, it goes very well with a nice glass of red wine (although I think a dry white would be equally scrumptious). Second, the cream sauce is made with a mixture of coconut milk and homemade chicken broth (you can use vegetable broth if you’re vegan, but trust me when I say chicken broth makes it so much more savoury). I got the idea for the recipe from bonappetit, but modified it considerably to fit with my own dietary agenda. The gluten free bread crumb topping is honestly amazing and definitely worth the 5 minutes of effort it takes, and was inspired by my food hero-goddess, Sarah B of My New Roots, from her delicious Macaroni ‘n’ Tease, which I also highly suggest. I modified it based on other experiences I’ve had, but I’d be lying if I said the idea was all my own.
A few notes on cheese: The one main allergen this recipe has is cheese. I try to keep my dairy/lactose to a minimum for several reasons, the main one being that lactose does not get along with my digestive system, and since doing a major dietary overhall to get rid of candida and start healing my gut, I haven’t completely gone back to eating how I used to, which generally included dairy on a semi-regular basis. I’m also not a big believer in cheese being especially useful for us, as its high level of acidity prevents its calcium from being properly absorbed, and its acidity can also contribute to inflammation (which can manifest itself through a stuffy nose/cold, or even sore joints). However, I also LOVE good quality cheese, and hard cheeses such as Parmesan or Comté in general contain no lactose, so once in a while I just have to live a little and eat something with serious cheese. I find if I don’t totally gorge myself I have no problems. Having tried just about every sort of “healing” diet on the block, I have come to the conclusion that dietary purism is not for me. However, if you double over in pain after consuming cheese, or if you feel you’ve got an unpleasant amount of phlegm, please don’t add it!
So, what to do if you do not want/cannot have dairy in any form: My suggestion is to double the cream mixture, or at least make 1 ½ times the amount. However, I would be lying if I said I tried this myself- this is just my instinct. If you go the extra cream route, you will without doubt need to let your gratin stand for at least an hour to ensure that all the liquid evaporates, or even wait till the next day to eat it. Cheese or no cheese, this is definitely one of those meals that is really best when eaten the next day, much like lasagna.
If you aren’t afraid of a little (or a lot of) cheese: This recipe would be delicious with any sort of good quality hard cheese. I am partial to Parmesan, but it is quite expensive, and so to cut costs I halved it with Comté (a semi-hard French cheese, also one of my favourites). You can also use Gruyère or white cheddar, or whatever else you have (please no yellow-coloured cheeses though!).
- 1 large head/2 small heads cauliflower
- 1.5 pounds (.75 kg) Brussel sprouts
- 2-3 cups grated good quality hard cheese, depending on how cheesy you want it (I used half Parmesan, half Comté- you can also use Gruyère or white Cheddar).
- ½ small tin anchovies/2 tablespoons capers (optional, but delicious!)
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts (optional, but delicious)
- Cream sauce:
- 2 leeks, white parts only
- 2 cans full fat coconut milk
- 1 cup chicken/vegetable broth (more if you like)
- A few sprigs fresh rosemary
- About 10 leaves fresh sage, finely chopped
- Good quality salt (sea salt/ pink Himalayan)
- Gluten free bread topping:
- ½ cup sunflower seeds
- ½ cup hemp hearts
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 1-2 small dried chili peppers
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- pinch salt
- Put a big pot of water on the boil. Thoroughly wash your vegetables. Chop the cauliflower into bite-sized pieces, trim and halve the Brussel sprouts, and cut the leeks into a chiffonade (cut the leek into quarters lengthwise, and then chop the quarters as finely as possible).
- Put your cauliflower and Brussel Sprouts in the boiling water and let blanch for about 5 minutes or so, until the Brussel sprouts are reasonably soft. Drain and set aside.
- In a large saucepan, add the leeks, coconut milk, broth, fresh sage, a sprig of the fresh rosemary, and a good dash of sea salt. Let it come to a boil, turn the heat on medium-low, and let it reduce to about half- this could take anywhere from 10-20 minutes. Be careful not to let it boil over!
- While your sauce is reducing, make your gluten free “bread” crumbs. In a food processor, combine the sunflower seeds, hemp hearts, nutritional yeast, dried chili pepper(s), coconut oil and a pinch of salt, and grind it all up for about 30 seconds, until it resembles breadcrumbs. Be careful not to mix it too long or it might become a paste.
- Transfer the crumb mixture to a warmed frying pan and let it toast for a couple minutes, stirring it occasionally with a wooden spoon. Set aside. In the same frying pan, toast your pine nuts for another couple minutes, taking care not to let them burn—careful, they burn easily! You can also preheat your oven about now, at 180/350.
- Put everything together! This is the fun and easiest part. Transfer the cauliflower and Brussel sprouts into a wide baking dish, and cover with the cream-leek mixture. Add the anchovies/capers, if you’re using them- break the anchovies up a bit and gently mix everything around with a spoon so the anchovies/capers and the cream sauce is evenly distributed. If you’re using cheese, add about half of it now and mix it into the mixture. Spread the rest of the cheese around the top, then add the pine nuts, and then the breadcrumbs. Bake for 40-45 minutes.
- For best results, let sit for 20 minutes to an hour before serving. This ensures that the cream will “set” and that there won’t be liquid at the bottom (you can always pop it back in the oven at about 200 C/375 to reheat for about 10 minutes, but this ensures that the cream will “set” and it won’t be liquidy at the bottom.
How to serve: Garnish with a few sprigs of rosemary, cracked black pepper, and serve with a simple green salad (dressed lightly with olive oil and lemon), and a nice baguette for those who can’t live without gluten/carbs (ie: my eternally French husband). If you’re making a whole evening of it, a simple chocolate mousse would go well as a dessert, or some stewed fruit (my first thought is pears) with some melted dark chocolate drizzled on top. OH BABY, my mouth is watering just thinking of it (which says a lot, because I am still full from my lunch).