Cauliflower cheese is a very British comfort food. When I get a craving for a cheesy sauce it is to cauliflower and not macaroni that I turn. My most recent incarnation of the dish uses smoked bacon and smoked 5 year old cheddar from Thurn’s. I made it for lunch last week and it was so delicious that I decided to make it for the Restaurant Widow pot luck last night. When I tasted the sauce I was tempted to stay at home and eat it all myself.
3 lbs cauliflower
8 tbsp butter
10 tbsp all purpose flour
4 cups of milk (I used Snowville 2%)
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg to taste
10 strips of Thurn’s smoked bacon
1lb Thurns smoked 5 year cheddar cheese, grated
Break the cauliflower into florets. Boil/steam it for 10-15 minutes in salted water until tender, drain well and set aside and keep warm.
Cook the bacon on a baking sheet in the oven (15-20 minutes at 400°F), finely chop and set aside. If you want to increase the bacon flavor you could use a tablespoon or of bacon grease in place of 1tbsp of the butter.
Make a bechamel sauce: melt some butter in a pan over a moderate heat and then stir in flour a spoonful at a time until you have a thick paste (a roux). Cook the roux for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time and watch it expand. Slowly add milk and keep stirring all the time until you have a smooth, thick sauce. You may want to switch to using a whisk. Season to taste. Gradually stir in 2/3 of the grated cheese. Save the rest to sprinkle on top. Mix the bacon into the sauce.
I usually make white sauce with cold milk, but I tried Delia Smith’s method of heating the milk first with onion, bayleaf and peppercorns. Given the strength of the cheese flavor, I didn’t think it made enough difference to make up for the increased washing up. It might be worth it if you were just making a plain bechamel.
Put the cauliflower into a 9×13 inch baking dish and then pour the sauce over it. Then sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. You can also add some breadcrumbs if you want more of a gratin.
If you are serving it straightaway, put it under the broiler for a few minutes until the cheese is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling. If you are preparing it further ahead you can reheat/brown it in a hot oven (probably 400°F for 25-30 minutes).