How to make cauliflower cheese – recipe – The Guardian

Cauliflower seems to have had a makeover in recent years, from slightly dowdy stalwart to hero centrepiece, but one dish that will never go out of style is cauliflower cheese. Here’s your foolproof step-by-step guide
Since I first wrote a recipe for this dish, cauliflower has enjoyed an extraordinary transformation from broccoli’s boring cousin to the trendiest vegetable in town. Back in 2012, the idea of serving up a cauliflower as the centrepiece of a feast would have seemed laughable to most, but now it’s popping up in restaurants and on Christmas tables alike. But don’t forget where it all began, and that’s with cauliflower cheese.
Prep 15 min
Infuse 30 min+
Cook 30 min
Serves 4
1 onion
2 cloves
1 litre milk
2 bay leaves
75g butter
50g plain flour
(or 3 tbsp cornflour, see step 3)
100g lancashire cheese (if need be, check it’s a vegetarian one)
75ml double cream
Nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 medium-large cauliflower
4 slices white bread
, crusts removed, crumb blitzed into breadcrumbs
25g cheddar (again, if need be, check it’s a vegetarian one)
Peel the onion, then cut in half and stud with the cloves. Put in a small pan with the milk and bay leaves, bring slowly to a simmer, then turn off the heat, cover and leave to sit and infuse for at least 15 minutes, before removing and discarding (or repurposing) the onion, cloves and bay.
Melt 50g of the butter in a medium pan set over a medium-low heat, then whisk in the flour and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Gradually add some of the infused milk, stirring it in to make a paste, then stir in the remaining milk, turn down the heat and simmer, stirring regularly, until you have a thick sauce.
If you’d prefer to keep the dish gluten-free, put three tablespoons of cornflour in a heatproof bowl, whisk in a little of the infused milk until you have a smooth paste, then stir in the remaining milk. Pour the milk and cornflour mix into a medium pan on a medium-low heat, cook, stirring, until thickened, then stir in a good knob of butter.
Crumble or grate the lancashire into the sauce until it melts – you could use just about any hard cheese here instead, including cheddar, red leicester, gruyere, emmental, even parmesan– though, depending on what you use, you may wish to adjust the quantities to taste. Add the cream (creme fraiche would also work) and a generous grating of nutmeg or black pepper, season to taste, then keep warm on a very low heat.
Bring a large pan of well-salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut the cauliflower into generous florets. Trim off and discard any tough bits of stalk, and cut the remaining stalk into even chunks. If your cauliflower has some green, tasty-looking leaves, snap those off, too – cut off and chuck the tough bases off the leaf stems, then roughly shred the rest.
Put the florets and chunks of stalk into the pan of boiling water and cook for four to five minutes, until just tender, but not soft, because they will cook further later and only the severely nostalgic enjoy mushy cauliflower cheese. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drain well. Add the leaves, if using, to the water for a couple of minutes, then drain and set aside with the rest of the cauliflower.
Melt most, but not all, of the remaining butter in a large frying pan on a medium-high heat, then fry the cauliflower, stirring, until slightly browned and caramelised – you may need to do this in batches. Season and spoon into a baking dish, and keep warm while you make the topping.
Put the remaining butter in the same pan and, once melted, add the breadcrumbs and fry until crunchy and golden, but not brown. Season, then set aside. Heat the grill to medium-high. Pour the warm cheese sauce over the cauliflower, then grate the cheddar on top. Sprinkle with the breadcrumbs, then grill until golden and bubbling. Serve immediately.
To make this more substantial, fry 250g bacon or chorizo in the pan in step 7 before frying the cauliflower. And/or spice things up by stirring a teaspoon and a half of mustard powder into the sauce, then adding a pinch of cayenne pepper to the pan with the breadcrumbs. Or add more veg by sticking two halved tomatoes cut side up on top before grilling.

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