A fitting end
On my tiny little corner of England stands a handful of planters. These are never going to combat world hunger, but they are a start. An attempt at growing my own food, of becoming more closely connected to the cycle that sustains us all, and appreciating just how vicious whitefly can be and why most farmers use an unholy amount of pesticides on their crops. It’s also made me appreciate my vegetables a little more. I never before understood just how long it takes to nurture and care for vegetables as they grow, to water and feed them at the right times and protect them from pests and wind so that finally, one day, they are ready for eating. Last year I mastered spring onions, tomatoes and spinach; all crops that require minimal skill or knowledge and a mere modicum of actual babysitting. This year I added cauliflower to my repertoire. Sadly, as my planters are not very large, I was limited to two cauliflowers. Just two. For a plant that takes roughly four-to-six months to grow from seed to fully formed vegetable. Six months to nurture from a tiny seedling, to planting out, to watching the tightly curled curds form to taking a big knife and hacking it down for the pot. Such a beautiful journey required a fitting dish, one that highlighted the magnificence of this vegetable.
Ahem. What I’m trying to say is I made cauliflower cheese. And it was good.
Cauliflower is a delicate vegetable at heart; if you overcook it, it will go mushy. Equally, its flavour is very mild, verging on bland. Don’t get me wrong, I love the stuff but you need a couple of supporting flavours to round it all out and stop it from being too one-dimensional. The nutmeg and mustard are key; don’t scrimp.
1 large cauliflower, leaves removed (serve them alongside braised in a little butter), cut into florets
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 pint (568ml) milk
4 tablespoons medium cheddar
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard (check it’s gluten free)
1 tablespoon mature cheddar
1 tablespoon gluten-free breadcrumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop the cauliflower florets in. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile in a small saucepan melt the butter over a medium heat. Whisk in the cornflour and cook for a minute, or until it thickens to a paste. Then slowly, stirring constantly, add the milk. Stir until the mixture starts to bubble and thickens to a thick, custardy consistency. Add a little more milk if necessary, then stir in a little salt, black pepper and the medium cheddar, ground nutmeg and wholegrain mustard. Add the cooked cauliflower to the saucepan and stir to coat the florets in sauce. Then tip the whole lot out into a small (I used a 4×6-inch oval) ovenproof baking dish.
3. Sprinkle the mature cheddar and breadcrumbs on top of the cauliflower cheese and bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs are medium brown. Serve immediately but be warned, it will be very hot in the middle.
Serves 2 as a main meal.