Ok, it’s not winter yet but I have lost all resistance to the cold.14 degrees C might seem surprisingly pleasant in London but I can assure you that after 5 years acclimatising to sunnier climes, 14 degrees here seems to herald the next ice age. I’m chilled to the bone and wondering what to eat. Warming comfort food is a priority.
Luckily brassicas are at their best and most robust at the moment. Time to celebrate that dish so maltreated by English dinner ladies thus despised by English school children and therefore largely ignored by the adult population. Cauliflower Cheese. And what could be simpler? A big cauli, cut into substantially sized florets (cut down the through the centre of the stalks of each floret to even up cooking times), blanch for a couple of minutes (or up to 4 if you really prefer little crunch from your cauli), whip up a bechamel (remember cold milk into hot roux or visa versa will ensure no lumps), lob in a nice sharp cheese (grated), dissolve whisking gently, pour over your drained and dried cauli and into a hot oven for 20 minutes.
BEFORE THE OVEN
Tips. I find roasting brings out the sweetness of cauliflower, so I roast in an steel pan at a very high heat (250 degrees C) for a shorter time. It doesn’t bother me that a few wisps above the sauce line blacken slightly. If you have thrown some raw tomatoes in at that point (halved cherry ones are good) it gives them a nice texture too. Full flavoured cheese is always a problem here but a mature fontina del campo does the trick. Save some lumpy slices to throw on top before roasting or some thick slivers of Parmesan or Reggianito. For something richer soft blue cheese also works. To make it a standalone dinner dish, add some crisped lardons of smoked pancetta before you bake. Finally, the cauliflower will always give up some liquid that waters down the sauce. Adding a cup of creme to the béchamel makes a sauce that will absorb / incorporate this liquid smoothly.
So forget the miseries of your youth and give it a go. A big cauli, a litre of béchamel and quarter kilo of cheese will easily feed four.
Maybe we should start doing comfort food evenings at The 5th Floor? This would certainly warm the cockles of your average Argentine! Or include Bed and Breakfast in the package for the expat crowd who want to escape back to their own culture for a night or two? What do you think?