Friday, 28 September 2012

Gotta Love a Cauli...

I know I mentioned this recipe before, in the "Veggie(ish) Delights" post, but as the weather has taken a decidely wintery turn for the chilly, I thought it really deserved a post of it's own.
Anyhow, the poor ole cauliflower - a much maligned vegetable that has really fallen out of popularity. Apparently broccoli has totally stolen the poor cauliflower's thunder (I saw it on telly - more on that shortly!). But yet I remember it being one of the vegetables my mother regularly tried to persuade us to eat - with some marginal success, actually, it was one of the few vegetables I would eat at least a little tiny bit. It's also very popular in Indian cookery - checkout your local Indian takeaway menu, I bet there is an "aloo gobi" on it, it's a cauliflower and potato curry and very tasty.

So, back to that TV show. There I was one evening, sitting with a sick and lacklustre little mini DinnerBaby on my lap, finally asleep after a long fraught day - and the remote control was on the arm of the chair.... Yeah, you've guessed it - the OTHER chair! Needless to say, everytime I tried to stretch across, the DinnerBaby would whimper and fret, so I was stuck watching the channel I was on. (On a sidebar, this is how I became a Jane Austen fan, looking after my little sister back in about 1985 one Saturday afternoon - the programme I was watching finished and of course we had no remote in those days. The 1940 production of "Pride and Prejudice" with Laurence Olivier came on - and I was hooked, I can't tell you how many times I've read it since.)
Anyhow, this particular evening back in 2010, it was BBC2. Whatever long forgotten programme I was watching finished, and on came a show with various celebrity chefs promoting vegetables that have fallen into disfavour. This particular week, it was chefs I never particularly liked, "The Hairy Bikers", promoting a vegetable I didn't particularly like and never bought, the cauliflower.

Well, obviously - considering I am now writing about it! Suffice it to say, I changed my opinion on both the Hairy Bikers (they are so cuddly and cute!) and the much-maligned cauliflower.

This is a recipe is for a cauliflower cheese, but it is substantial enough to eat as a main course for a weekday supper. Him Indoors loves this. Now, this is definitely a step too far for the fussy DinnerBabies in this house (I know, I know - my bad) so I cut this recipe down by half and we polish it all off fairly easily, between the two of us. I turned the other half of the cauliflower into cauliflower soup and I got two lunches out of it too... so it is extremely economical. It would make a good side dish for a roast beef dinner too, as it is gorgeously rich, but I would think a little would go a long way and the half-sized dish would serve 4 or even 6 people as a side.

Here's the recipe; enjoy, folks! I usually made it with cheddar instead of gruyère cheese, as I never have it. This is the cut down "for two" recipe, feel free to double up for more people, or follow this link... (PS - I know 10 minutes seems like a long time to par-boil the cauliflower to us modern Millies schooled to love all veg al dente, but go with it - cauliflower is not something you really want hard, and I promise it won't be mushy)

Perfect Cauliflower Cheese with Bacon and Mushroom

Parmesan crumbs provide a fantastic crunchy topping in this recipe, which is hearty enough to work as a main course


  • ½ head of cauliflower, trimmed and broken into florets
  • 125g smoked streaky bacon, cut into 1cm strips (I used one part of the double pack of bacon lardons from Lidl)
  • 125g chestnut mushrooms, finely sliced (again, I only had regular ones, although chestnut mushrooms are widely available in supermarkets now)
  • A scant 20g of butter
  • 25g plain flour
  • 125ml full fat milk (I often use whatever I have, usually skim - but full fat is nicer)
  • a large pinch of Colman's English mustard powder
  • 100g gruyère (or cheddar) cheese, grated
  • 25ml cream (again, creme fraiche will work nicely, although the cream is lovely)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • a grating of fresh nutmeg
  • 25g breadcrumbs (the chaps suggest ciabatta, I used what was in the freezer - usually the end pieces of a stale loaf, whizzed up and frozen)
  • 25g parmesan cheese, grated
  • Preheat an oven to 180C
  1. For the cauliflower, cook the florets in a large pan of boiling water for about 10 minutes, or until just tender. Drain and set aside
  2. Meanwhile, for the béchemel sauce, fry the bacon bits in a dry pan until coloured but not crisp, then remove with a slotted spoon (leaving the fat in the pan)
  3. Add the mushrooms to the bacon fat and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown, remove and set aside
  4. Melt the butter in a clean saucepan over a low heat and beat in the flour until smooth, then slowly whisk in the milk until smooth
  5. Stir in the mustard powder and the grated cheese, and then the cream. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then fold in the bacon and the mushrooms
  6. Place the cauliflower florets in an overnproof casserole dish (for this amount, the one I use is about 22cm x 18cm, or 9" x 7") and pour over the cheesy sauce, then sprinkle with a grate of fresh nutmeg
  7. For the topping, mix the breadcrumbs with the grated parmesan and then sprinkle all over the cauliflower
  8. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for 15 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown and bubbling
Serve with a green salad and / or good crusty bread (I don't usually bother and just have two servings instead, greedy gut that I am!)

Enjoy the weekend - and good luck to Galway in the All-Ireland Hurling final replay this weekend.... COME ON, THE TRIBESMEN! Gaillimh abú (nailing my colours to the mast, here!), show them all how to skin those Cats!

Sarah xx

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