27 October 2007

Cauliflower and Broccoli Flan with Spinach Béchamel

Sformato di Cavolfiore e Broccolo con Balsamella di Spinaci
Cauliflower and Broccoli Flan with Spinach Béchamel (with title)
In the Philippines, the concept of a "course" is not engrained in the culinary consciousness. This dish is, in typical Italian trattoria fashion, the meal's antipasto which comes before the pasta course. Say what? Most Filipinos are satisfied appreciating the diversity that comes from piling different entrées on their plate during a party. There is no "pasta course." Why, if you serve the food one after the other, you might for a few seconds realize you are full and not want any more. So instead I'm disguising this extremely vegetable-laden antipasto as a side dish. If you're feeling low on antioxidants (though I don't know how you would feel that) and fiber, this gratin is the perfect solution. And guess what, it tastes so good that my mom actually packed up the leftovers for her lunch the next day.
Reusable Grocery Bag
While we're on the subject of going green on your food (remember, you need 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day!), it's time we acknowledged the ongoing trend for reusable grovery bags-- in the rest of the world, I guess. Whenever I bring mine (PhP99 from all Rustan's supermarkets) and I tell the cashier not to bother with the plastic, I always get a puzzled look. In fact, when I bought it, the bagger was going to put it in a plastic bag. Ha ha ha. You have to admit it's a lot more fashionable than a plastic bag tumor stuffing your back pocket, though it's too bulky to stuff in your pocket. I don't mind carrying it around folded. Those landfills are not going to magically go away. (The great irony of life is, when I forget to bring it, that's when the bagger decides to double-bag my groceries. Ha.) (Recipe follows)

It's better to use fresh broccoli. I added a few frozen ones to fill in the gaps-- they were mushier than I would have wanted by the time the cauliflower was done. You can use low-fat milk if you like.

(adapted from Bon Appetit magazine)

  • 2-1/2 cups cauliflower florets (500g cauliflower on the stalk)

  • 2-1/2 cups broccoli florets (500g broccoli on the stalk)

  • 12 ounces (about 350g) bags baby spinach leaves or frozen spinach

  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick or 90g) unsalted butter

  • 1/4 cup (35g) all-purpose flour

  • 2/3 cup (170g) whole milk

  • 2/3 cup (120g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese

If using whole broccoli and cauliflower, cut off the huge stem and roughly separate the florets-- it doesn't matter if they are large florets at this point. Bring a large pot of water (2 liters) to a rolling boil; add a generous pinch of salt and boil the florets for 6-8 minutes or until crisp and tender. Drain into a colander, saving 2/3 cup of the cooking liquid.

Place the spinach in a microwave-safe bowl and put a microwave-safe plate on top. Nuke on HIGH for 2 minutes or until wilted. If using frozen spinach, nuke until completely thawed. If you don't have a microwave, toss the spinach (in the same pot you boiled the vegetables in, whatever) over medium-high heat until wilted. When the spinach is warm enough to hold in your hands, squeeze all the water you can out of them and chop the wrung bundles of spinach finely.

Dry the pot you boiled the vegetables in and place over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk and the reserved cooking liquid. Whisk constantly until it thickens and boils (3 minutes), then turn off the heat and stir in the cheese and chopped spinach. Give the sauce a taste-- season with salt and pepper if you wish (I just added pepper). Crumble the broccoli and cauliflower into the pot (when you press and roll the florets between your fingers, you'll find they fall apart easily and won't be squishable). Stir to combine. Place in an oven-proof dish. You can wait until it cools completely, cover it with plastic wrap, then refrigerate until the next day, or bake it already.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the dish on the top rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes (35 minutes if you chilled it). I find that I want the top to be browner and dryer, so I increased the heat to 400°F (200°C) and left it in the oven for 10 minutes more, or until the top forms a nice crust.

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