Vegetable Au Gratin (Vegetables baked in white sauce)
Vegetable Au Gratin is a casserole dish made with lots of vegetables, covered in bechamel (white) sauce and topped with breadcrumbs and cheese. It is an extremely tasty dish and is a great way to make your kids eat their veggeis. If you throw in some pasta or rice, this becomes a one pot meal. I like this casserole a lot, but had somehow not made this in a long time. That was until one of my readers, Nilisha reminded me and requested for a recipe. Thanks Nilisha, if not for you I would not have made my fav dish today!
This is a pretty simple recipe, just involves a few steps. But the only thing is, it can be really bland at times. I have my own little secrets of adding flavor, which I will share with you in this recipe. Bechamel is a classic french sauce, made with milk or cream and thickened with a roux. A roux is a mixture of butter and flour in a 1:1 ratio. This can be used for thickening any sauce, and makes a very creamy and silky sauce, even without the addition of cheese. It is usually seasoned with salt and pepper, and a very classic and traditional ingredient in this sauce is Nutmeg. A pinch of grated nutmeg goes a long way, and adds a lot of depth. I have spiced up my bechamel with some minced garlic and some red hot pepper flakes!! Add in another layer of flavor by mixing in some chopped scallions (or chives) and a tsp of dried Italian seasoning. How does that sound!!
Note: In India, not many types of cheese are available. You can only find mozzarella cheese/pizza cheese. You can use that in this recipe, wherever it calls for cheese. But while buying cheese make sure you are buying actual cheese not the pasteurized/processed cheese products. Read the labels carefully before buying. If you live in a big city, most supermarkets sell cheese in the freezer section (the place where you find paneer).
For the Bechamel (White) Sauce:
Unsalted butter – 2 Tbsp
All purpose flour (Maida) – 2 Tbsp
Milk – 1 1/2 cups
Crushed black pepper – 1/2 tsp
Italian seasoning – 1 tsp (optional)
Nutmeg (grated) – 1/4 tsp
Cheese (grated cheddar) – 1 cup
Red Pepper flakes – 1 tsp (optional)
Garlic (minced) – 1 Tbsp (optional)
Spring onions/Scallions (greens only, chopped) – 3-4 Tbsp
Salt – to taste
For the Vegetables:
(I used a mix of following vegetables but feel free to use whatever veggies you have. Some suitable options other than the vegetables mentioned below are: Mushrooms, French beans, Peas, Asparagus and Corn)
Broccoli florets – 2 cups
Cauliflower florets – 2 cups
Carrot (sliced) – 2 large
Potato (sliced) – 1 large
Note: If you are using mushrooms, make sure you cook the mushrooms before adding them to casserole. The water content of mushrooms is very high and they can make your dish extremely soggy.
For the Topping:
Dry Breadcrumbs – 1/4 cup
Parmesan Cheese (grated) – 1/4 cup
Italian Parsley (chopped) – 3-4 Tbsp
Cheese (I use a mix of cheddar and monetary jack, mozzarella would be nice too!) – 1/2 cup
Butter or Olive oil – 2 Tbsp
To prepare the vegetables:
- Blanch the cauliflower and broccoli. Heat a large pot of water like you would for cooking pasta. When the water comes to a boil, add 2 Tbsp of salt and add in the cauliflower florets first. Cook on high heat for about 2 minutes and then drop the cauliflower florets into ice cold water for about 5 minutes. I like to use a spider spatula to pick up the veggies and reuse the water for the next vegetable. Next blanch the broccoli. Drain the vegetables from the cold water and keep aside.
- Slice the carrots and potatoes using a mandolin (or your knife) and boil them separately. Add some salt while boiling. Drain and keep aside.
Note: You may also steam the vegetables. To make this even easier you can use those microwave steam in the bag vegetable packets to make the gratin.
For the sauce:
- Melt the butter on low heat in a saucepan. Add in the minced garlic and red pepper flakes, and saute on low heat for 1 minute. Then add the flour and use a wire whisk to mix the flour into the butter, and cook for another minute, stirring constantly with the whisk. This is known as “roux” (pronounced as rue), which is used to thicken many sauces and gravies.
- Gradually add in the milk, constantly stirring with the whisk. Take care to not form any lumps. If you add the milk all at once, you will end up with a lot of lumps. Add the milk slowly and keep whisking, this is the mantra to a perfect bechamel sauce.
- Cook for about 4-5 minutes, until the sauce is thick and coats the back of a spoon. When you dip a spoon into the sauce and remove it, the spoon should have a coating of the sauce. This is when your bechamel is ready! Season the sauce with the Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and nutmeg powder.
Note: Nutmeg powder is a very classic ingredient in a bechamel sauce. Don’t skip it, it adds a whole lot of flavor.
- Then turn off the heat and mix in the grated cheese. Again, stir constantly when you are adding the cheese, or you will end up with a huge lump of cheese.
To assemble the casserole:
- Preheat the oven to 400 F
- Mix together the chopped parsley, breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese in a small bowl and keep aside.
- Toss the broccoli, cauliflower and carrots and the white sauce together, to coat the veggies evenly.
- Lightly grease a 9 by 9 inch baking pan/casserole with some butter. Spread the vegetable-bechamel mixture evenly in the pan.
- Arrange the potato slices on the top, forming a layer to cover the vegetables underneath.
- Sprinkle the breadcrumbs mixture on top of the potatoes. Finish with lots of grated cheese and dopplops of butter or olive oil on the top layer
- Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake for 20-25 minutes. Then remove the pan from the oven and remove the foil. Bake again for 5-7 minutes, until you get a light golden brown top layer.
Note: This recipe is light on cheese. You can definitely use as much cheese as you like!