the key to any gratin dauphinois is a golden crust--in 17th century France the golden crust of a gratin signified the "upper crust" of Parisian society.
in this recipe, the golden crust, made mostly of expensive cheese (rich and fatty), rests comfortably atop a hoi polloi of steamed vegetables (simple and cheap). clearly the structure of this recipe manifests the socio-economic structure of the feudal society from which it emerged.
butter for the dish
3 cups vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces (cauliflower, turnip, broccoli, zucchini or anything that tickles your absent center)
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
1/2 small onion or 2 large shallots, finely diced
1/2 cup grated Gruyere
2 eggs, separated
salt and pepper
pinch grated nutmeg
pre-heat oven to 375 and lightly butter an 8 by 10 inch gratin dish. steam or parboil the vegetables until barely tender when pierced with a knife. drain, rinse under cold water, then finely chop them.
lightly brown the bread crumbs in two tablespoons butter in a small saucepan, then stir in the milk. when it's hot to the touch, turn off the heat. meanwhile, cook the onion in the remaining butter in a small skillet over medium heat until translucent, about three minutes. Combine the onion, vegetables, and bread crumb mixture in a bowl, then stir in the cheese and egg yolks. season with salt and power to taste and the nutmeg. beat the whites until stiff, then fold them into the mixture. pour into the prepared dish and bake until puffed and browned, about 25 minutes.
i served it with a citrus-avocado salad--the freshness of the salad complimented the rich gratin very nicely.
thank you deborah maidson.