a classic cauliflower cheese (and a plea for tolerance!)

traditional cauliflower cheese
This is a post about a classic British recipe but it is also a rather clunky plea for tolerance. When politicians and commentators are banging on about the evils of immigration, there are several reasons why I think they are wrong. And one of my favourite reasons is (probably a little selfishly knowing my tastes) what immigration has done for British food. It has only improved it. Go back 100 years and you will find that there were Jewish bakeries and delis, curry houses and Chinese restaurants. What I bet you didn't know is that immigration's effect on British food and agriculture goes back much, much further.

In the late 16th century, the Huguenots (French Protestants m
ainly living in Flanders) were being terribly persecuted for their religious beliefs. Those that were able to fled abroad, and some 50,000 came to England. While they may have arrived empty-handed, what they brought with them were skills. Wonderful creative skills such as weaving, lace-making and glass blowing. But they also had developed more sophisticated skills in market gardening. As a result, fruit and vegetable growing in Britain vastly improved. It is also said that they also brought with them hops, which most certainly improved our beer!

Now, I am not saying that things were perfect for these refugees at first. One of things they were derided for was the fact that they ate "funny" food. But as they assimilated, they introduced their love of growing and eating different fruits and vegetables. Of these, one is a vegetable that we now regard as quintessentially English - the cauliflower.

I suppose what I am inelegantly trying to say is that the next time you see some peculiarly dressed person, eating unfamiliar food, perhaps it's a really good time to keep an open mind. It's not what they are taking from you, it is what they are giving us. You never know, you might actually like it!

a traditional cauliflower cheese
OK, I'll admit it. A cauliflower cheese is not very nice when done badly: when the cauliflower is overcooked and soggy and the cheese sauce is watery. But when done simply and well, it is definitely a delicious classic.

There are some people who prefer to cook their cauliflower whole and serve it that way. There is no doubt that it looks very impressive. Unfortunately, in my experience, bits of the cauliflower are overcooked and other parts are undercooked, which is why in this recipe, I would advise you to separate the cauliflower into smaller florets. They will cook more evenly and that way I can ensure that my cauliflower is still slightly crunchy - which is the way I like it.

There's not much that cauliflower cheese doesn't go with, except probably cake. It is a classic side dish for British Sunday roasts, but goes beautifully with all sorts of comfort food, especially sausages or perhaps a few chops and some roasted tomatoes.

Serves 4 as a side dish (about 2 as a main course)
Skill level: Easy

1 x cauliflower, stripped of its outside leaves and separated into evenly sized florets
about 600ml of béchamel sauce
100g good quality mature cheddar cheese (leave this out if following my cheese sauce recipe!)
mustard - my béchamel sauce already has Dijon mustard but feel free to add more (especially a more pungent English mustard)
2-3 tbsp grated Parmesan or Gruyère cheese
1 tbsp breadcrumbs

  1. Begin my making your béchamel sauce. When you have corrected the seasoning, prepare the cauliflower.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
  3. Break the cauliflower up into as evenly sized florets as you can get.Steam over boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain and allow all the moisture to steam off.
  4. Carefully (so that the florets aren't broken up) into a lightly buttered oven-proof dish.
  5. Pour the cheese sauce over the florets, then scatter with breadcrumbs and the additional cheese.
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the topping is golden.


o cozinheiro este algarve said...

My favourite vegetable dish and because I love it I always over cater.Cauliflower cheese soup with ground almonds added is my ultimate left over.Recipes with cauliflower are endless and i just love the combination of cauliflower with chick peas.Add tomatoes celery chilli olive oil garlic and onion - call it a salad and serve it warm hot or cold.

Petra said...

I love cauliflower cheese and must try the addition of the extra mustard!

belleau kitchen said...

cheese on anything is GOOOOD but cheese on cauliflower is HEAVENLY... love this... I have a friend who is a Hugonaut!