So I’ve had this cauliflower in the fridge for quite some time now, hoping it would gracefully grow old and black so that I could avoid preparing a cheese sauce but to my horror, and ignoring a barely visible amount of blackening, it looked as good as the day I dumped it there. So I must bite the bullet and prepare a sauce that in all honesty, is not so much of a chore but will require a little extra work if it is to feed several hungry mouths.
We’ll start by preparing the milk. Throw a couple of bay leaves, a quartered onion and half a dozen cloves into the milk, season with sea salt and black pepper and bring to the boil. I use between 1 and 1.5 litres and this expands considerably once you start adding cheese, so bear this in mind when selecting your pan. You can experiment with other infusions if you’re feeling adventurous.
Once your infusion begins to boil, remove the pan from the heat and discard the ingredients when cool. Allowing the milk infusion to cool will help avoid lumps later.
Moving on to the cauli, start by removing the stem and any unwanted foliage. At this stage you should have already removed it from the fridge, otherwise it could get a little cramped and quite likely dangerous too. You can remove any unsightly blackening with a potato pealer or a sharp knife. Cut into florets or if you prefer, simply cut into the required amount of portions.
Boil in salted water for 5 minutes and then drain. You could save the water for another dish if you wish and I’d suggest using it for a creamy cauliflower soup made with cumin, turmeric and fresh coriander, for instance.
While the cauli cools, we’ll do the roux for our béchamel sauce by taking equal quantities of flour and butter. Over a low to medium heat, melt the butter first and whisk in the flour to create a smooth, creamy mess akin to wet sand. That’s your classic roux, used as a base for several ‘mother’ sauces, which in turn are used as bases for all other sauces.
Still whisking, gradually add the cooled milk infusion until completely combined. As the mixture heats the fat reacts with the starch in the flour and thickens the milk. You should continue stirring over the heat until the floury taste subsides but before the mixture darkens too much, that is unless you need a base for a dark sauce, of course.
Now you can gradually add your cheese, transforming our béchamel into cheese sauce unless you wish to impress your dinner guests, then calling it a cheese béchamel is acceptable.
Did you know that equal quantities of Gruyère and Parmesan combined with your basic béchamel create the famous Mornay sauce? However, for our cauliflower cheese, we’ll stick with good old Cheddar. Continue adding the cheese and tasting regularly until the desired cheesiness is met.
Finally, a little more seasoning can be added or try a little nutmeg before pouring over the cauliflower which has been sat patiently in a suitable ovenware dish. Grate a little more cheese over the top and chuck it in the pre-heated oven at about 180°C for 20 minutes or until slightly singed on top.
Depending on whether the cauliflower cheese is for lunch, dinner or just a side dish, you can pad it out and make it go further by adding chopped bacon or peas and even pasta, to name a few. Equal quantities of cauli and broccoli make a pleasant change when accompanying the Sunday roast, although my personal preference would be to include very little cheese in this case.
Mwynhewch eich bwyd!