Friday, February 23, 2007

Cauliflower cheese

I implied, in my entry on Sicilian cauliflower, that cauliflower cheese was humdrum. But sometimes humdrum is what you want. And sometimes you look in the recipe books for more original ideas and find that you don't have the necessary ingredients.

Anyway, cauliflower cheese went well with the braised fennel: the creamy richness offset the flavours of aniseed, tomato and vinegar.

I usually bake cauliflower cheese. Putting it under the grill may be preferable, because the cauliflower and the sauce do not really need extra cooking: but it means preparing the ingredients at the last minute, so that they are already hot when they go under the flame. (The grill would scorch the topping before it warmed up the rest of the dish.) This is a dish that you can prepare in advance, putting it in the oven 20 minutes before serving.

For a small cauliflower, I prepare half a pint of bechamel: 28 g butter; 28 g plain flour; 280 ml milk. Melt the butter, stir in the flour, cook the roux very gently for a minute, turn up the heat to the low side of medium, and stir in the milk gradually, incorporating each addition before adding the next. The sauce should be of a spoon-coating consistency. Allow it to bubble for a minute, continuing to stir. Stir in 100 g grated cheese. I used a supermarket-bought Cheddar; Gruyere, Cantal or any such melting cheese would also be good. Add a pinch of nutmeg and half a teaspoon of mustard if you like; black pepper is essential, I think. You may not need salt.

Break up the cauliflower into florets, and steam or boil them for five minutes. I don't like leaving the cauliflower whole, because it requires longer cooking; parts of it will overcook, acquiring the rank qualities that all brassicas develop in these circumstances. The florets should give to a sharp knife, but retain some crunch.

Mix the cauliflower and sauce, and tip into an oven dish. Cover the surface with breadcrumbs, or a mix of breadcrumbs and parmesan. Bake at gas mark 6/200 C for 20 minutes, or until the surface is browned and the sauce is bubbling.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

We put that week's fennel directly in with the cauliflower cheese. You're right - the flavours go together wonderfully.