I think almost all connoisseurs of continental food are familiar with the dish called “au gratin”. When I was first introduced to the dish I became curious about its proper pronunciation. When I came to know about its French connection, I asked a couple of my Belgian colleagues and concluded that it should be pronounced as awe gra-ta(n) or “অ-গ্র্যা-ত্যাঁ” in Bengali (in fact it is easier to express with Bengali alphabets than with English ones).
Au gratin is a simple and popular casserole dish, prepared with both vegetarian and non vegetarian ingredients. Now, let me share with you how to prepare the vegetarian version.
As mentioned before – the process of preparation is fairly simple – sauted vegetables mixed with a white sauce, topped with grated cheese, baked and grilled to form a golden crust on top; and finally served in a baking dish.
Vegetables – carrot, beans, cauliflower, peas and sweet corn.
Garlic – few chopped
Spices – whole cumin seed (optional)
For white sauce:
Butter – 40gm
Flour (maida) – 3 tablespoon
Milk – 2 cups / 200 ml
First, prepare the white sauce and keep aside. For the sauce melt around 40 grams of butter in a sauce pan (low flame to avoid burning of the butter). Add around 3 heap spoonful of flour (maid). Stir it to mix it well with the butter for couple of minutes. Now slowly add about 2 cups / 250 ml of milk and keep stirring continuously to avoid any lump in the sauce. Add about half teaspoon of salt. (Optionally, you may put a bay leaf while mixing the butter and maida to flavour the sauce; once the sauce is ready just remove the leaf). Keep stirring the mix in the pan while the sauce becomes thicker. The thickness would be like that of tomato ketchup. Once the sauce is prepared, keep it aside.
In a pan again add about 2 spoon of butter (instead of butter you may add any white oil or olive oil). Add the chopped garlic and one teaspoon of cumin seed; and saute for a minute to enhance the flavour of garlic along with cumin in the butter. Add the blanched (parboiled to get rid of the rawness) vegetables and saute for 3-4 minutes (avoid overcooking, the vegetables should be little crunchy). Add salt according to taste. Optionally, to make the dish mildly spicy you may add a little chopped chilli as well (according to your desired hotness; traditionally this dish need not be hot; but to satisfy the typical Indian taste buds you may go a little wild).
Now, pour the white sauce over the vegetables, mix them well and put off the flame. Transfer it to a baking dish. Spread grated cheese evenly on the top to cover the entire surface (if you don’t have any cheese cubes at hand to grate, don’t worry, you may use cheese slices instead).
Now, it’s time to bake the dish in the oven. Transfer it to a baking dish and put it into a pre-heated oven (preheat the oven for 10 mins at 200 degree centigrade). Grill it for about 7-10 minutes till the cheese melts and crust at the top takes a golden hue.
Remove the baking dish from the oven. Now it is almost ready to be served. As a final touch, you may garnish with some Italian herbs like basil or thyme on the top.
A chef’s tip: If you’re a strict non-vegetarian you may add shrimp to the dish while sauting the vegetables.