Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cauliflower Au Gratin an Ode to West Town Tavern, Chicago Illinois

Susan Goss is an amazing chef. She and her husband have opened and run two of the best restaurants in Chicago I know. And I have never met her, but I have eaten at her restaurants. Several years a ago when I was acting at the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atikinson, Wisconsin, my friend Eric came to visit me and we took a trip on my days off from the show down to Chicago where my brother was working at the time. My brother ate out all the time because he was living out of hotels. So needless to day he was a great source of knowledge when it came to the dining scene in Chicago.

One of his favorite restaurants was a place called Zinfandel which  had the distinction of only serving "American" food and sourced everything from the ingredients to the liquors and wine from the 50 states. No outside sourcing. Susan Goss was the chef. It was a clever gimmick I suppose but the results were really sweet. The menu featured really well done American dishes with classical preparations and elegant touches. Very thoughtful she would include a monthly "State" special menu which would feature the foods and products from a particular state. The month I went there it was Hawaiian month, and that was fun!

Unfortunately, the place closed after a kitchen fire and a few years later she and her husband opened West Town Tavern. It was a place based on basic midwestern table fare, elevated, but not so fussy that one would not recognize it. I ate there too and it was really good. What I loved about Susan's food is that it had all the elements of each iconic dish but were well thought out and executed with clever or intelligent precision. Comfort food gone good!

One of the sides I had there was a cauliflower gratin that really was something else. It was well seasoned and rich. It was also well balanced not becoming overwhelmingly thick and rich but with a picante finish. Now I love gratin and I immediately filed this away. Growing up I remember my Grandmother who lived with us would make baked cauliflower in mustard cream. I actually like this dish and she usually made it when we would have pork chops. It went well with them.

Cauliflower is an awesome vegetable and it can be inspired. I love it pureed and I love it fried. But mostly I love it in a stupidly rich picate sauce with cheese! So I have tried to meld my love of Susan's recipe with my memory of my Grandmother's. I think it came out well. Give it a try. Let me know. Enjoy Ya'll!

Irene and Susan's Cauliflower Gratin in Cauliflower Mustard Cream ( as re-imagined by Forrest)

2 Heads Cauliflower ( I sometimes use frozen 2-3 bags or about 3lbs )
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1/2 cup minced peeled onion
2 cups heavy cream
2 heaping tablespoon Grey Poupon Mustard ( I add a little more sometimes I like Mustard )
1 and 1/2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon freshly chopped rosemary leaves 
1 and 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 cup parmesan cheese grated
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs


Cut the cauliflower into small florets
Chop up the stems finely and reserve
(if using frozen cauliflower chop 2 and 1/2 cups of florets up for above)
Blanch florets in boiling salted water 6 to 8 mins
Quickly cool in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, reserve
Saute the shallots till soft in olive oil, then add chopped stems and cream and cook together
Bring to a boil and simmer until stems are very soft.
Puree in a blender and season the cream with the Mustard, horseradish, nutmeg, salt, pepper and rosemary and 1/4 cup parm cheese
Mix together with the florets and pour into a buttered baking dish
Mix bread crumbs and remaining parm cheese and sprinkle on the top evenly
Bake at 350 for 20 to 25 mins until top is golden and gratin is bubbling. 
Let stand at least 10 mins before serving


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