I love cheesy things – no, not that kind of cheesy. Cheese is one of the best things that can happen to a vegetable. So when I see the word au gratin or gratin, count me in. Technically, a gratin is a food that consists of thinly sliced potatoes or another ingredient in a cream sauce, usually topped with breadcrumbs and cheese. Au gratin actually refers to the technique of cooking in a cheesy sauce.
The problem with most au gratin preparations, much as I love them, is that they are quite high in fat – butter, cheese, cream, and other ingredients that up the fat gram count far beyond my desire to eat cheesy vegetables with some frequency. This preparation, derived from trial and error (oh yes, lots of error – curdled milk, mushy veggies – ugh), combines a number of techniques that make it possible to have a lovely, creamy dish that is still low in fat. Even better, you can make it in one pan for serving at an everyday meal, or dress it up for only a few fat grams more by spooning it into a baking dish and topping it with a bit more cheese, and putting it under the broiler for a minute or two. I have made this with potatoes (naturally), cauliflower, broccoli, and green beans, and I think you could try other vegetables as well.
Speaking of cheese, you really need a good sharp cheddar to make this dish. Most low fat cheddar doesn’t have the flavor to carry this dish without getting lost in the sauce. I recommend Kerrygold Reduced Fat Irish cheddar. This cheese has only 4 grams of fat/ounce and a sharp cheddary flavor that makes it great for cooking and a good snack (maybe with a nice apple), too.
Basic Au Gratin Recipe
4 cups of vegetables cut in 1 to 2 inch pieces (or ½ inch slices for potatoes)
1 ½ cups non-fat milk, divided
¼ teaspoon salt
2 ounces shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour (potatoes only need 1 Tablespoon of flour)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)
For the dressed up version, 2 additional ounces of shredded reduced fat cheddar cheese. You can also sprinkle it with a little paprika for color.
In a large pan bring vegetable, salt, and 1 ¼ cups milk to a boil over medium high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and cook for 5-10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. The time will vary depending on the vegetable. Be sure to check the vegetable while they are simmering – you don’t want mush. In a small bowl, whisk remaining ¼ cup milk and flour. Stir the flour mixture into the vegetables, stirring constantly until it thickens, about 1 minute. Stir in the 2 ounces of cheese, mustard, and pepper, stirring until the cheese melts. This makes 4 servings at about 2 grams of fat/serving. This is cauliflower au gratin.
Variation: For the dressed up version, spoon the vegetable mixture into an oven proof pan. Sprinkle with an additional 2 ounces of shredded cheese, and paprika if you want Broil for 1-2 minutes until cheese melts (or if you’re lazy like me, stick the pan in the microwave for a minute to melt the cheese.) This makes 4 deliciously cheesy servings at about 4 grams of fat/serving. This is potatoes au gratin.