Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Cauliflower Cheese with Roasted Cauliflower and a Parmesan Crust

When it's good, it's very, very good...

If you're passionate about cauliflower, you'll find that tossing it in oil then roasting it intensifies and transforms the taste, giving a deep, nutty,  flavour. You could eat it on it's own like this, with a sprinkling of sea salt, or use it in other dishes, such as this cauliflower cheese dish. I think it's perfect for cauliflower cheese, because it means you avoid two heinous crimes against said dish, being either a watery sauce leaching out from soggy cauliflower (from the juices leaking out) or a stodgy lump you can pick up on your fork, from the dish cooking too long and all liquids evaporating. Yes, you know what I'm talking about! (Don't mention this to Grandma).

I have given you two versions, naughty and nice - one for the sinful amongst you, made with a traditional Béchamel and plenty of cheese, the other equally tasty, but with a lighter gluten-free version of a Béchamel sauce, both topped with a Parmesan cheese crumb. How much, if any, of the Parmesan crumb you choose to sprinkle on is up to you - you may just decide you prefer to have grated cheese on top. Or nothing extra. What you will get, though, is delicious cauliflower in a silky sauce. If you want to make it a little more punchy, add a spoonful of Dijon or English mustard to the sauce, and if you haven't got time to infuse the milk with the onion, you could cheat and add a little onion powder / granules instead.

The first version is lower in calories - however, you could probably cram another 200g or so of cauliflower into the same amount of sauce, if you want more volume for your money, for only another 19 calories a portion) - this version can also be made gluten free by using gluten free bread to make the breadcrumbs...

Serves four as a side dish (more with extra cauliflower), 163 calories per serving.

The Saintly Version
  • 350g cauliflower florets (or up to 550g - essentially one average head of cauliflower) [133 calories, or 38 calories per 100g]
  • 1 tsp neutral oil (or more if you're not counting calories) [45]
  • 350ml semi-skimmed milk [175]
  • 1/2 onion / 1 large shallot [removed]
  • Nutmeg, freshly ground [2]
  • Black pepper, freshly ground [1]
  • 3/4 tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
  • 2 level 15ml tbsp cornflour (cornstarch) [72]
  • 30g mature cheddar (or your favourite strong cheese, adjust calories accordingly) [125]

Topping (optional)
  • 20-30g fresh breadcrumbs (I used gluten free, 1 very small slice) [40]
  • 10-20g finely grated Parmesan cheese [39]
  • 5 sprays pure oil spray (e.g. sunflower) [20] 
For a change
Add one large or two small leeks, sliced into 2cm lengths and added to the cauliflower after half an hour of roasting, with a knob of butter. Toss together and roast for a further 20-25 minutes before continuing with the recipe.

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 6 / 200C / 400F. Put the cauliflower florets into a heat-proof dish and toss with the oil until thoroughly coated (your hands might be best for this).

Roast in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, turning once, until turning golden, and just tender.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Put the milk in a pan with the peeled onion/shallot (cut through almost in half/in a cross), and some freshly grated nutmeg and black pepper. Carefully bring to the boil, (but don't leave it unattended or when it comes to the boil it will bubble up and over the pan putting out the flame if you're using gas etc.), turn the heat right down, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse for 5 minutes, or longer if you have time.

Remove the onion/shallot, mix the cornflour with 2 tbsp cold water in a small dish, and bring the milk back to a simmer. Whisk the cornflour mix into the milk and continue stirring for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened. Take off the heat, and add the cheese (and a rounded tsp of dijon mustard, if you fancy!), stirring until the cheese has melted into the sauce completely, then add salt to taste.

Taste the sauce for seasoning, and add more salt to taste if desired (probably unnecessary).

Once the cauliflower is cooked through, remove from the oven (and turn up to gas mark 7 / 220C / 425F), arrange with the stalks down, and pour the sauce over evenly to coat it all. Whizz the bread(crumbs) up in a blender/processor with the Parmesan cheese and scatter evenly over the cauliflower cheese. Lightly mist the oil spray over the top, and put back into the oven for 20 to 25 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Enjoy as a trimming with a roast dinner, or even on it's own, or with crusty bread and a green salad.

For the naughty version

Toss the cauliflower in a tablespoon or two of oil before putting into the oven to roast (rather than just a teaspoon).

Use whole milk to make the sauce (infuse in the same manner), and if you like, instead of adding cornflour to the sauce, put the milk into a jug or pan you can comfortably pour it from (minus the onion), then make a roux in another pan, by melting 35g butter, and then stirring 35g plain flour into it (it will become like a paste), and cooking out, whilst stirring for a couple of minutes (be careful not to burn it or turn it brown).

Add the milk a little at a time, while stirring vigorously to beat out any lumps - you might find it easiest to do this with a good whisk (preferably silicone-coated as a metal whisk in a metal pan is going to make your sauce taste of... yep, metal!) - until you have a smooth sauce, then cook gently for another 5 or 10 minutes until the sauce thickens.

Remove from the heat, and add lashings of grated cheese (about 50 to 70g should do it), stirring until it's melted, then season to taste, and pour over the roasted cauliflower. Scatter over 2 - 3 tbsp breadcrumbs, and a handful of grated cheese, and cook for 20-25 minutes as before. You could also scatter some streaky bacon or pancetta cut into small strips over the top for an extra treat!

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