Traditionally, cauliflower cheese is boiled cauliflower served with a relatively light and basic cheese sauce. That is how cauliflower cheese has always been served by my mother. I prefer to use a few well-placed additions to “tart” things up a little. Serving this British classic with an oven-cooked topping of breadcrumbs, parmesan and thyme elevates it from a simple side dish. This is one recipe for cauliflower cheese that deserves to be eaten as a main with sides of its own.
The differences don’t end there. Infusing your milk with bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns improves greatly the flavour of the all important cheese sauce. Of course, this isn’t a necessary step, but if you take the time to add a few complementary and inexpensive ingredients here and there you’ll end up with one cracking cauliflower cheese.
Infused milk doesn’t just work well in savoury dishes – check out my recipe for Spiced Rice Pudding for proof!
If we’re being honest – always the best policy – cauliflower cheese never “did it” for me in my youth. Cauliflower itself was boring and without anything but a thin layer of cheese to cover it, it held absolutely no allure. This recipe changed things. Introducing a few interesting elements to what could, a few years ago, have been described as another “tired English tradition” has resulted in a recipe that is still cheap, but far more captivating.
- 1 cauliflower
- 568ml whole milk (1 pint)
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 cloves
- 5 peppercorns
- 50g plain flour
- 50g salted butter
- 75g mature cheddar cheese, grated
- ¼ tsp English mustard
- a little nutmeg, freshly grated
- 30g wholemeal breadcrumbs
- 30g parmesan cheese
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
- a pinch of salt
- Tip the milk, bay leaves, cloves and peppercorns into a small pan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat immediately and set aside (lid on) to infuse.
- Meanwhile, prepare your cauliflower by removing any outer leaves and cutting into individual florets. Bring to the boil in a pan of salted water and cook until tender. Arrange in a suitably sized oven-proof dish.
- After 15 minutes strain the milk and transfer into a measuring jug. Take a large pan and melt together the butter and flour until thick (roux).
- Bit by bit whisk the strained milk into the roux. Bring to the boil and add the cheddar and mustard. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Mix together the parmesan, breadcrumbs, thyme and salt. Pour the thickened cheese sauce over the prepared cauliflower and top with nutmeg and the breadcrumb mixture.
- Bake the cauliflower cheese at 200C/180C(fan) for 20-30 minutes until cooked through and crispy on top.
Cost: Though arguably a year-round performer, cauliflower is more-or-less at the height of its season around now. At this time of year a good, large example should set you back no more than 80p or so.
That means that even with a few additions, this simple and speedy recipe for cauliflower cheese should set you back in the region of £2.50.
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