Sprout and Mushroom Gratin


So, it seems we’ve graduated to sprouts. In the scheme of ‘Forty weeks of feasting’ (and yes, for those who missed it, there’s an even hungrier one on the way), we’ve moved past the diminutive stages of seeds and pulses, grapes and dates. Now it appears that I’m harbouring a sprout and it’s now safe to talk about it.

This is not a recipe I could have contemplated making over New Years. I couldn’t have even entertained the possibility of pulling it together 10 days ago.

Sprouts? Mushrooms? Forrest murky flavours, made more intense by roasting? With wrinkled edges and damp centres?

Excuse me while I reach for my citrus aromatherapy ointment to inhale, breathe deeply while humming and clamp my tongue to the roof of my mouth, all the while making crazy eyes.

Food first became foe with a six hour shoulder of lamb. It was cradled on a mattress of rosemary stems and studded with slivers of garlic; slipped into pockets of flesh, all of it slowly softening under a blanket of foil.

This was back in early December. When it came out of the oven my stomach lifted and surged, like a handbag being emptied, searching for an errant pen.

Lamb and rosemary became the first victims the grand club of Aversion. Soon it claimed as members bacon and beef, and while  steak was bearable, any daube was a dark prospect. Not long after the greens which I would smugly scoff turned grim. The notion of a pile of wilted spinach, tangled on a plate was enough to make the hairs on my arms stand up. Eggs also proved touch and go. One day scrambled eggs with avocado on toast were manna from heaven. The next, their slippery surfaces were bounty from Hades.

Along the way I discovered some new ways to enact torture, which should be recorded for reference in some file in the Hague, or for Kathryn Bigelow to consider.

1) Driving past the ripe and rank smell of Panama’s fish market on a steaming December day.

2 ) Sitting next to someone on a nine hour flight while they nurse whiskey after whiskey. Curiously, while the smell of wine has remained fine, the heady peat of brown spirits were poison.

3) Visiting a Brooklyn temple to pulled pork, brisket, and bourbon, with minimal ventilation.

4) Accompanying your spouse to an all you can eat meat-fest; a churrasceria in Rio. As men in dapper samurai inspired suits parade around with spears dripping with fire roasted beef hearts, rumps, pork loins, chicken thighs, the only way to escape them placing more and more on your plate is to flip the coin on your table from ‘Sin’ to ‘Nao’. I held out through the blade steaks and the beef shins, taking refuge in small spheres of cheese bread. But when the pork ribs, wallowing in sticky sauce splayed across the plate opposite from me, it all proved too much. I’ll spare you the details of what followed.

But beyond the aversions, the most curious thing was what I found myself turning to. Strawberry ice cream. Any ice cream, for that matter. Frozen yoghurt. Milk shakes. Starbucks Vanilla ‘Frappucinos’ (oh, the shame). And for the woman who has made a case for so long about the merits of a  life without the crutch of white carbs, gosh, didn’t the stowaway have other plans for me. I couldn’t get enough bread. Toast. Cheese. Cheese toasted onto bread. White rice. Noodles. Pasta. Boiled potatoes. Muffins. Empanadas with cheese. French toast. Pancakes. Oatcakes.

But now, we’ve passed a hurdle. I’m back. Food seems no longer something to be feared. And so, I present to you a warming winter gratin, in celebration of the sprout.

You could use all mushrooms. You could use all sprouts. But I quite fancy the way their tastes and textures play together.

You could skip the bacon, but heck, if you can finally stomach cured pig again, then you’ll probably find you’re tempted to throw it in everything. It does add a nice element of smoke and seasoning.

And as for the bechamel, yes, that is a tin of pureed white beans in there to bolster it out. A little bit of extra protein never did anyone any harm (particularly if they’ve lived on bread alone for the past seven weeks).

Eat it on its own with a sharply dressed green salad on the side. If you’re feeding a crowd, put it on the table next to a roast chicken too.

Or eat it straight out of the pan, alternating looks between a snowy London streetscape and a sonogram.

Sprout and Mushroom Gratin


500 grams sprouts, trimmed and halved
300 grams closed cup mushrooms
60 grams pancetta
2 tbsp olive oil
25 grams of plain flour
25 grams of butter
3/4 cup of milk, warmed
1×400 gram tin of white beans, drained and pureed
1 stem of fresh rosemary, finely minced
40 grams grated parmesan

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the oven to 180 C/350 F.

2) Take one large, or two medium roasting dishes. Remove the stems from the mushrooms (wiggle them from left to right, then twist) and place the stems and the  mushrooms, withthe opening face up in a roasting dish. Place the brussel sprouts, cut side up in the roasting dish , so they are snug, but not piled on top of each other. Scatter both with lardons, olive oil and season with salt.

2) Bake for 45 minutes, until the lardons are cooked, the sprouts burnished and the mushrooms roasted. Remove the baking dishes and turn the oven up to 200C/392 F

3) To make the white bean bechamel topping melt the butter in a fry pan, along with the rosemary, then sift in the flour and stir until you have a paste. Cook that roux until it is fawn (the colour of Jennifer Aniston’s hair), then pour in the warm milk. Stir on a low- medium heat until you have a nice, thick white sauce. Keep stirring if you find any lumps (though using warm milk instead of cold should help prevent this).

4) Fold the white bean puree into the bechamel. This will help give it a bit more body and also add some extra protein to your dinner.

5) Since the mushrooms and sprouts will have shrunk quite a bit while they cooked, they should all be able to fit in one A4 sized baking dish. Combine all the vegetables, plus the lardons and season with lots of black pepper. Daub the white bean bechamel over the top so it forms a blanket, then grate parmesan all over the top of that.

6)  Place the dish in the 200C/392F oven to bake for 20 minutes, until the cheese is crusty and molten.

6) Serve with some bitter leaves that have been sharply dressed. Some piquant chilli sauce on the side is optional.


  1. HOW AM I JUST READING THIS NOW?!! Amazing, wondrous, incredible news. Am so thrilled for you and the Hungry One. Big, gooey hugs from SF. xxxx

  2. What a nightmare to travel to the other side of the world feeling that way… although now I understand your not-that-excited opinion of the meat at Fette Sau much better…

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