Cauliflower cheese is not entirely unlike Children.
- It’s unhealthy
- And time-consuming
- And easy to cock up
- Especially if you don’t give it your COMPLETE ATTENTION at all times
- The mess is astonishing
- At some point in the process you will swear Never Again.
- You will also announce that it is Just Not Worth It
Unlike small people however, you soon realise that it is ALWAYS worth it - particularly when paired with a green salad or avocado (which is not something you’d automatically put on a plate with a child).
I did try to minimise the mess-factor by using an oven-proof pan for the cheese sauce, but some dozy cow from the council called around just as I was mid-roux, and by the time I’d managed to shoo her away (“I’m making a ROUX!” I finally yelled – how mad must she have thought me?) and got back to the kitchen it HAD BURNT, so I had to start again from scratch, in a clean pan. The final pan / implement count was: three pans (cauliflower x 1, cheese sauce x 2), one colander (cauliflower), one jug (milk), one cheese grater (um, cheese), one food processor bowl and blade (bread-crumbs,) one chopping board (cauliflower and cheese), two knives, one wooden spoon, two regular spoons, and one server thingy. And that’s before I served it up. Which is ALOT of washing up for one dish. (I daren’t leave it for the au pair – not least because she has a weekend in Sweden planned in June which she can’t miss...)
So, as with a third child, I have finally accepted that when it comes to making cauliflower cheese, you should never say never.
(Ps: Rachel made cauliflower cheese recently, which I suddenly thought of when there was NOTHING in the fridge apart from a cauliflower, some milk, and – hurrah! - some cheese. Her recipe is probably alot nicer than mine, however calls for the white sauce simmering for 20 minutes, which is just too long in this house. Once I start cooking, I want my food NOW, or as close to as possible. I also use more cheese, because, as with wine (for me) and Calpol (for them), more is more.)
You need (for 4):
- One large cauliflower, broken into large florets
- 600 ml milk (any type)
- 150g grated cheese (ideally a mix of strong cheeses; I used cheddar and parmesan in equalish measures)
- Two heaped tablespoons butter
- Two heaped tablespoons plain flour
- A couple of handfuls of breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 190c / 170c fan / 375f
Cook the cauliflower florets in a pan of boiling water for about 5 minutes – until they’re softened but still have a bit of bite. Drain and leave to one side.
To make the cheese sauce:
Heat the milk (in the microwave is easiest). You want it just below boiling.
Melt the butter in a deep pan. When it starts to sizzle add the flour and mix well with the butter. You’re aiming for a dry, chalky mixture, with no obvious melted butter visible, so if necessary, add a bit more flour to get this. Stir over a medium heat until it starts to stick slightly to the pan.
Do NOT answer the door for ANYONE.
Stirring like a lunatic, pour in the heated milk a couple of splashes at a time; the first few splashes will sizzle and (seemingly) evaporate, and the mixture will resemble thick paste. Keep adding the milk, a bit at a time, and stirring frantically, until the mix has the consistency of double cream.
Bring to the boil, stirring all the time, then remove from the heat.
Add the cheese (keep back a small handful), and stir well to combine it. Taste, adding salt and pepper if needed.
(Alternatively, just buy a good ready-made béchamel sauce – about 750ml – heat through, and add grated cheese, to knock 20 minutes off your prep time, and hours off the cleaning up.)
Bung the cauliflower into the sauce, stir well to mix, then either keep in the pan – if it’s oven-proof – or slop into a separate oven-proof dish. Either way, sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs and the rest of the grated cheese, and dot some butter on top, then stick in the oven.
A scant 20 minutes later, you will have perfection in your kitchen.
Which is not something most parents can often honestly claim.