Broccoli cheddar and apple gratin

November 28, 2012 § 18 Comments

Fair ladies, kind gentlemen!  I bring you: more broccoli!

Yes.  More broccoli.  Consider it another delicious stepping stone on the cruciferal march toward that cauliflower with harissa cream that I mentioned, and I swear I am working on, and it will appear any day now.

As a reward for your patience (or a way of buying it, perhaps?) though, this gratin is none too shabby, at least that much I can promise.

But first and foremost, for those of you who had Thanksgiving last week, how did it go?  Are you still stuffed?  Ours was quite the gathering, the most rollicking Thanksgiving I’ve been to in years, perhaps ever.

We were not only my family but also Joel’s, and on top of that not one but precisely six Norwegian students, here in Minnesota studying at various universities and connected to my mother in various ways.

The turkey was gargantuan, the gravy flowing, the Brussels sprouts piled high, and the pies numerous and flaky.  The conversation was sparkling.  Also, loud.  Norwegian Americans may be reticent, but Norwegian Norwegians generally aren’t. Nor is my family.  Plus, my grandmother was in the midst of everything exhibiting her talent for handwriting interpretation (mine = hard to read) and discussing Project Runway.  Always a kick.

We’re just now coming up for air.  It’ll be a swift gulp because next I have to jet over to Boston for a thesis committee meeting.  Meaning, my dissertation is taking up an even larger portion of my brain than usual.  And usually it’s a pretty large portion (much to the detriment of my cocktail party conversation)!

But, I shall save this conversation by steering away from academics and back to the broccoli at hand.  Last week it was a broccoli soup with Parmesan and lemon.  Except, at some point in the post I accidentally wrote “broccoli soup with Parmesan and cheddar.”  (I fixed it now, so don’t bother going to try to find it!) Apparently, even as I was enjoying my bowl of soup, I had something else on my mind.

If you think of broccoli soup, it is a natural progression to move on to cheddar.  They’re a comfortable duo, seen arm-in-arm in many a lunch spot.  Back in Boston, this cafe near our apartment made a pretty fabulous thick broccoli and cheddar soup.  I used to get a craving for it every couple of weeks.  It seems that I still do.

Yet, in the same breath (if thoughts have breath), I also thought of a particular broccoli and apple soup.  Broccoli and apple are a slightly odder pair, the apple smooth and sweet against broccoli’s lightly sharp green flavor.  But, opposites can attract, and these two do.

This got me wondering about a mash up.  Broccoli and cheddar work; broccoli and apple work; apple and cheddar don’t just work, they’re a timeless combination.  Why not put all three together?

Instead of another meal of soup, I decided to combine the trio in a hearty gratin.

The key here, I think, is to use a nice sharp cheddar.  In this way, instead of blanketing and muffling the broccoli and apple, the cheese sauce adds a layer of contrast.  There’s simply nothing like a good mature cheddar, the crumble and smoothness, the pungent nutiness with a faint tang of grass.  It’s good stuff, and it does the other members of the gratin nothing but favors.

For some reason, I think because my apples were especially juicy, my gratin sauce separated a bit and resulted in a brothy layer at the bottom. If this does happen to you (and it well may not, if your apples are a little firmer), don’t be concerned.  Actually, be happy!  Just put a nice piece of crusty bread in the bottom of a wide bowl.  Spoon the broccoli, apples, melty cheese, and flavorful broth all over it. The bread will soak up the liquid and become spongey and buttery.

If you don’t wind up with a brothy layer, you’ll still be happy you have this gratin.  You’ll be happy either way.

Broccoli Cheddar and Apple Gratin (serves 4-6)

  • about 2 lbs. of broccoli, washed and cut into florets (remove the stems and save them to shred and add to salad, or something of the sort)
  • 1 large or 2 small apples, washed, cored, and cut into matchsticks
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1 cup milk (preferably whole)
  • about 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  1. Preheat your oven to 375F.  Put the broccoli in a large pot with about 1 inch of water.  Cover, bring to a boil, and cook until the broccoli has just turned bright green, about 5 minutes.
  2. Lightly grease the bottom of a large baking dish or gratin pan, then add the broccoli and the apple pieces, and toss with a couple of pinches of salt.
  3. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter of medium heat.  Whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of minutes, to keep the flour from tasting raw.  Then, whisking vigorously the whole time, add the milk bit by bit until it is all smoothly incorporated.  Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly thickened, about 5-7 minutes.  Now, stir in the cheese.  (Goopy melty, wow!)
  4. Pour the cheese mixture over the broccoli and apple.  Bake in the oven until bubbly and starting to brown in spots, about 20-30 minutes.  Serve warm.
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