This is an amazing vegetable bake that wants to be a lasagna. Winter is a great time for vegetable and baked pasta dishes, the warmth from the oven heats the house and the smells of slow-baked dishes warm the soul. Admittedly this is not a simple dish to make, but the results are spectacular, like all the recipes of Gill that I have made.
Bèchamel sauce, also known as white sauce, is one of the French mother sauces. There are at least four theories regarding its origin, but the most likely one claims it was invented for Louis XIV by his chef, Pierre de la Varenne, whose 17th-century cookbook Le Cuisinier françois is home to the first recorded Béchamel recipe. The second theory according to The London Economic, the 1733 tome "The Modern Cook" houses the first known recipe for béchamel, courtesy of French master chef Vincent La Chapelle. He made a soup of fish, turbot, using a white base that was the precursor to the white sauce we know so well today. More on the origins and history of this sauce here.
The sauce was considered at one time to be a symbol of wealth because of the amount of milk used to make the sauce. More on how this sauce evolved from its predecessor
This dish is rwo dishes, the baked vegetables can be served as a side during the summer with fresh basil and parsley, and this version with the spiced Bèchamel sauce is perfect for the cold months.
The dish is decadent and carried by the Bèchamel beautiful sauce. Usually, Bechamel sauce is rather subtle and bland, however, steeping it with herbs brings it alive. The roasted spices from the vegetables also contribute layers of flavour making this dish a favourite.
Gill Meller has been part of the River Cottage team for years working closely with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He has continued with the same theme, simple elegant foods without fuss. His recipes highlight the fresh and amazing produce of Britain in simple recipes that shine. He has been accredited with changing British cuisine through his work and is one of the leading voices in a healthier and tastier British cuisine. Root stem leaf flower is the first book of his that I own and will dot be the last. The recipes are vibrant and unique, simple fare that shines on the table. You will see me cook from here often.
For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.
For the roasted vegetables:
1 lb tomatoes, cut into thick slices
2 eggplants, cut into slices longitudinally
1-2 zucchini, cut into thick slices
10-15 garlic cloves, left whole
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly pounded into a coarse powder
A generous sprinkling of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
Olive oil spray
Salt, to taste
1 teaspoon pepper
For the Bèchamel sauce:
3 cups milk
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, sliced
1 celery stick, sliced
A few black peppercorns
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
To finish the dish:
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Preheat an oven to 375° F.
Place the vegetables in a single layer, you may have to do this in 2-3 batches, and sprinkle with the whole garlic, fennel, chilli, rosemary, salt, and pepper. Spray liberally with the oil. roast for 35-45 minutes till the vegetables are soft and charred in spots. Remove and cool.
Layer the vegetables in a large Pyrex dish spreading the different vegetables out evenly. Set aside.
Heat the milk in a small pot and add the bay leaf, onion, celery and peppercorns. Heat the milk it just before boiling, do not boil or it may split, and turn off the heat. Let the milk steep for 20 minutes.
Heat the butter and add the flour and cook on very low heat till the roux is light in colour. Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and stir in to mix. Add the warm milk straining the solids out. Whisk continually to get the mix smooth and heat on low heat till the sauce is thickened. It should have the consistency of light cream. Add the cheese and mix in continually till the cheese has dissolved completely. Do not boil the sauce, the oils from the cheese will split out and make a gooey mess.
Pour the sauce over the baked vegetables. Top with the grated Parmesan. The dish can be repped to this stage.
Bake for 30-40 minutes till the sauce is bubbling in the centre and the top is browned. Serve immediately with the bread on the side..