I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel around the holidays this year. It’s the first Christmas without my mom, and I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I promised myself last year that I wasn’t going to mope around all season long. That’s not my style, but most importantly …. my mom would not want that.
When you loose a loved one, so many people tell you that even though they are not here physically, you will find them visiting you in other ways, reminding you that they will always be with you. In the first few weeks after my mom passed, I looked for her everywhere. I looked so hard I think I was setting myself up for disappointment. I didn’t see her I didn’t feel her and I wanted to so bad. Once the grief had some time to soak in and ease up a little, I stopped looking so hard for her .... and that’s when it happened.
The first time I got on a plane after my mom passed away I was so nervous. I hate to fly even though I travel often. I unnecessarily worry about turbulence, and would always call my mom right before I flew and she would say every single time “oh, honey, don’t be silly …. you’re going to be just fine”. It's always comforting to have your mom tell you everything is going to be ok. I got on that flight with knots in my stomach wishing I could call up my mom to calm me down. Well .... that flight turned out to be one of the smoothest, most magical, non-bumpy flights I had ever taken. As we were landing I had a huge grin on my face because this was the first time I got to say, hi mom … there you are.
My mom always complained about the cold. The fridgid cold and snow would drive her so mad, she would threaten to leave the northeast, and move to Florida or Arizona every single winter. Anyone who knew her knew how much she hates the cold, she made it abundantly clear. If you live in the northeast US, you know that we have one of the best years (weather-wise) from the summer until now. This fall/winter has been unseasonably warm, we've basically been having a gorgeous indian summer well into December. My mom would have been over the moon about this weather, I know she has something to do with it ….. hi mom.
It look a little time and a little patience, but now I feel my mom everywhere. And if I cannot have her here with my physically over the holidays, I am so happy that she decided to let me know she is still out there, trying to make me simile, and trying to help me have a happy time over the holidays.
Even though we don’t have cozy, fireplace weather yet, it doesn’t mean that I won’t be cooking a little cozier for the holidays. Potato gratin might be one of my favorite celebratory holiday foods. The creaminess from the béchamel, the crispiness from that top layer of potatoes is pretty much heaven on a plate in my book ….. until I could no longer enjoy dairy and gluten the way I used to. I pretty much put gratin in the category of things that I would have to forget about, because there could not possibly be a way to recreate that creamy heaven without real cream and cheese.
In case you haven’t guessed by most of my recipes, I am not one to keep foods (especially my favorites) in that category for very long. I started daydreaming about a hazelnut cream that could could work the in béchamel … and with one try it was even better than I ever could have hoped. This was going to work. I layered the potato, caulower and leeks in a casserole dish, drenched them in the hazelnut béchamel, and what came out blew my mind. Not only was it delicious, but the herbs and hazelnuts enhanced this dish so much that I can say, without a doubt, I would vote for this version anyday over it's cream and cheese counterpart. A dairy-free, gluten-free cauliflower potato gratin that doesn’t taste like a knock-off at all …. it actually tastes, better. Boom. The holidays just got a little happier, oh ….. and thanks mom :)
cauliflower + leek + potato gratin with a hazelnut béchamel + crispy sage (gf+df)
I used this recipe HERE on Martha Stewart to guide me, and it also inspired the genius use of the crispy sage. Their version uses sweet potato, which I think would also make a great (and slightly more nutritious) substitution.
MAKES a 9x9” gratin
For the hazelnut béchamel:
1 cup of hazelnuts, soaked (overnight, or for 3 hours min)
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons of ghee OR olive oil
3 tablespoons of brown rice flour
½ teaspoon of kosher salt
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
5 sage leaves, minced
5 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and minced
1 spring of rosemary, leaves removed and minced
lots of freshy cracked black pepper
For the gratin:
1 head of cauliflower, thinly sliced florets (¼” thickness)
7 white potatoes, peeled and sliced (1/4” thickness)
1 large leek, white and light green parts only, sliced (about 1 cup)
about 10 sage leaves
1/3 cup of hazelnuts
Pre-heat the oven to 350ºF
Make the hazelnut cream + béchamel:
- Place the hazelnuts and water into a high speed blender and blend on high for about a minute. Strain the milk through a nut milk bag into a small bowl.
- In a small saucepan, melt the ghee over medium heat (or heat the oil). Add the flour and whisk to incorporate. Cook for about 1 minute, then being to add the hazelnut milk. Do this slowly, about a tablespoon at a time, whisking continuously. Add thenutmeg, salt, pepper, and minced herbs and continuously whisk until the mixture becomes thick (can coat the back of a spoon), about 5 minutes.
Assemble the gratin and bake:
- In a 9x9 baking dish, pour in the béchamel so it's just covering the bottom. Then, add a single layer of potato, a single layer of cauliflower, a sprinkle of leeks and cover with the 1/2 of the remaining béchamel. Then add another layer of potato, cauliflower, leek and the rest of the béchamel. Top with a thick layer of the potatoes (they can overlap so that the bottom layers are not showing. Season well with salt, and pepper and drizzle some olive oil over the top.
- Cover the dish with a layer of parchment, and a layer of foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove the dish, raise the heat to 475ºF, and discard the parchment and foil. Once the oven has reached 475, place the dish back into the oven for another 15 minutes. Check to make sure the top is not burning, since oven temperatures can vary. You want the top layer of potatoes to be dark brown around the edges.
While the gratin is baking, toast the hazelnuts and fry the sage:
- In a small pan oven medium-low heat, add the hazelnuts and toast for about 5 minutes, until golden brown and the skins start to release. Rub the hazelnuts around in a towel to release the skins, then discard the skins. Place the nuts in a mortar and pestle and grind into fine chunks.
- You can use the same pan to fry the sage, just clean it out. Cover the bottom of the pan with sunflower oil and heat over medium-high heat. Add the sage leaves and cook for 1-2 minutes until crispy, but still green. Remove and set aside until you're ready to serve.
Add the sage + nuts to the gratin and serve:
- Sprinkle the hazelnuts over the gratin, and place the crispy sage leaves evenly on top. Serve warm.