“Yah! Cauliflower for dinner!” said no-one ever.
Me and cauli have had a casual, on-off relationship over the years. I thought I liked her as a kid; she could be creamy and smooth when she was at herself, but then school dinners came along, she became bitter and we fell out. We didn’t speak for a long time after that but I’ve warmed to her again of late, especially when she visits all dressed up to the nines in a gloriously silky, Mornay gown.
Cauliflower cheese, done well, is one of life’s great side dishes. Great with roasts of all descriptions, it reminds me of Sunday afternoons, sitting in front of the telly, too full to go outside because I’ve eaten too much – again.
This much-maligned brassica also makes a great soup of course and if you’re interested I’ve a stupendous recipe for a cauliflower and cheese soup, which is Scottish in origin. It featured on this very page some years ago. That’s right: I’ve been writing about being a greedy gorb for years and years.
The humble cauliflower is best friends too with a range of the more pungent spices like cumin and turmeric, which is why is makes a good addition to curries. More recently, the more health conscious among us have been using blitzed cauliflower as a base for pizzas. I haven’t tried it though, seeing as how I’m not mental. Perhaps that’s a bit harsh: I would try it and one day I might. But if it’s a Friday night in 2021 and I’m making/eating pizza, I want it to be the absolute best pizza. And the absolute best pizza requires a dough base and that’s the bottom line. It also requires salami and pineapple, but that’s another argument.
Did you know that the white part of a cauliflower is called the curd? It is. Although this curd is different to the one Little Miss Moffat was gorging on. Whilst, as I’ve said, cauliflower cheese is one of life’s great side dishes, I think it’s such a perfect combination that sometimes, just sometimes, it should be afforded centre stage. It’s decadent enough in its own right and so a small bowl of cauliflower cheese is all you need, perhaps with a few slices of sourdough toasted and buttered for maximum affect and a glass of chilled white wine, as in the photo. We know how to live la vida loca at Rancho Relaxo, I’ll tell you that for nothing.
“Yah! Cauliflower cheese for dinner!” Now, that’s a whole other story. A humble vegetable is given a magnificent make-over elevating it to a level of taste bordering on the divine. Every mouthful is an event and that is not a word of exaggeration. This stuff is shockingly good. By way of expanding the veggie/goodness spectrum, I use broccoli in my cauliflower cheese and I suppose that makes the dish a cauliflower and broccoli bake.
Whatever the case, it’s the kind of food I’d love to see more of in restaurants. Who am I kidding? The year we’ve just had, I’d like to see more of restaurants full stop. But we’ll get there, I think.
This is the kind of dish to serve someone who thinks they don’t like cauliflower or broccoli or both. And if they should stick to their guns and claim to be allergic, happy days, all the more for you.
1 head of cauliflower
1 head of broccoli
pinch of salt
50g of butter
50g of plain flour
at least a pint of milk, full fat or semi, it matters little
1 white onion, peeled and halved
150g of grated cheese. Cheddar is traditional but I use Gruyere
1 egg yolk
salt and white pepper
This takes a little bit of effort but considering the final product, it’s well worth it.
Start by adding the milk and onion halves to a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Once it bubbles, turn the heat way down low just to keep the milk warm.
As that’s happening, separate the cauli curd and broccoli into florets and bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Salt the water.
Add in the cauli first and give it two minutes on a simmer and then add the broccoli and give things another two minutes. Drain.
Put the oven on to pre-heat (190) and lay the florets out on a baking tray. Place these into the oven as it heats. This low heat will dry the florets a little so they don’t leak moisture into the final bake. Give them five minutes in the oven and then remove and arrange in a baking dish.
Now make the Mornay. Add the butter to a saucepan and melt slowly. When melted add the flour and over a medium heat, stir to make a roux. Keep stirring and cooking for a few minutes to cook out the flour; it should start to smell biscuity.
Ladle in some of the warm milk and whisk until smooth and then continue adding the milk and whisking until you have a smooth, slightly thick sauce. This will take a few minutes and your wrist will likely be sore but tighten up, we gastronauts are made of tough stuff. You only want it slightly thick because the cheese, when added, will thicken it more.
Simmer and stir your slightly thick sauce for a few minutes and then taste to make sure the flour has been completely cooked off. Now it’s time for one of the most wondrous metamorphoses in food. Unseasoned, this bechamel is bland to the point of beige but once you season it is transformed into the most luxurious sauce. Add a pinch of white pepper and a pinch of salt, stir in and taste and then repeat until it’s perfect. In this case ‘perfect’ is a tad under-seasoned. Remember that the cheese will add another element of saltiness.
Once you’re happy with the bechamel it’s time to turn it into Mornay.
Remove from the heat and add half the cheese. Stir through until smooth and then lastly, for added decadence, stir through the egg yolk.
Taste again for the craic: It should taste like the most delicious cheese sauce you’ve ever encountered.
Pour the sauce all over the cauliflower and broccoli, making sure everything gets a coating and then sprinkle over the rest of the cheese.
Retire to the oven for roughly half an hour, or until it’s golden and bubbling and the smell in the kitchen makes you feel like the king (or queen) of cooking.
Divide into bowls and devour, ideally with some crusty or toasted bread as in the pic.
“Yah! Cauliflower cheese for dinner!”
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