Now cauliflower is still very much in season where I am but sadly, as I’ve talked about before it is not a vegetable that has people jumping up and down with excitement. Unless, of course, you’re following a low/ no carb diet in which case it pops up everywhere you look as a hard working substitute for a wide variety of ingredients from mashed potatoes to rice and crisps/ chips. I have to confess though that I am not a lover of all things low carb, especially at this time of year. Personally, I’m pretty sure that we are meant to eat some carbs. Perhaps not in the quantities that some people do, and definitely not in the over-processed state that a lot of people do, but (for me at least) the world becomes quite a depressing place without them. However, something good does come from everything and the endless substituting cauliflower for potatoes has shown the world just how well the two go together and nowhere is that more obvious than in this one pot gratin.
I found this recipe from Nigel Slater a while back, and have been tweaking it about ever since. Although the original is very tasty, it uses broccoli instead of cauliflower and doesn’t have the garlic, thyme, leeks or potatoes. Now, I like to get as much veg as possible into my food and I still haven’t found many main course recipes that aren’t improved with a few leeks, so I like them in there. Leeks without some lovely fresh thyme or sage, or some garlic? Not happening in my house, so they went in there as well. And finally, obviously, the potatoes. You could always leave them out if you are on an anti- potato drive too, but all I can say is that you clearly don’t have to cook for teenage boys. With them around everything has to be bulked out, and I don’t know many better ways to do this than with pulses or spuds. But try it for yourself, the result is as comforting as mac and cheese, but don’t worry, not so heavy or stodgy that you’ll be asleep on the sofa unable to move afterwards and is perfect served as your main meal, with just a light salad of mixed green leaves on the side.
Smoked Mackerel Gratin Recipe
Serves 4-6 (depending on appetite)
3 leeks, sliced
1 tbsp fresh thyme
3 cloves of garlic
1 cauliflower broken into bite sized florets
4 smoked mackerel fillets (skin removed and flaked)
6 tomatoes, roughly diced
3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly using a mandolin or food processor.
2-3 tbsps grated hard cheese (I used cheddar but pecorino or parmesan would also be good)
For the roux:
90g plain flour
570 ml milk (or a mix of milk and fish stock)
Salt and pepper
Start by crushing your garlic and leaving it to one side, then put your leeks and thyme in a pan with a good splash of oil and soften over a low heat for around 15 minutes. When they look meltingly soft, throw in your garlic and stir around for another couple of minutes.
Meanwhile, boil your cauliflower florets for three minutes, then refresh under cold water, and make your roux sauce. Melt the butter in a pan, then stir in the flour to make a paste. Allow to cook for 2 minutes and take off the heat. Gradually add your liquid, bit by bit, stirring each time to incorporate. When all the liquid is in, return to the heat and slowly bring to the boil, stirring the whole time. Simmer for around 6 minutes or until it has lost its floury taste, then season. Lightly stir in the leek mixture, as well as the flaked smoked mackerel, the cauliflower florets and the diced tomatoes.
Now its time to assemble your gratin. Preheat your oven to 200 deg. C and lightly grease an ovenproof dish. I used a rectangular one, 6 cms deep and 20 by 30 cms. Put half of your leek and mackerel mixture into the dish, then top with half of the sliced potatoes. Top this with the remaining half of the mackerel mixture and then the remaining half of the potatoes. Sprinkle the cheese over the top and dot with butter. Put your feet up and bake for around an hour and a quarter, only remember to check after 45 minutes that the top isn’t catching. If it is, cover with foil and carry on cooking. When the time is up, test that your potatoes are cooked with a knife and you’re away.
Serve with some mixed green leaves.