1 large organic head of cauliflower (or 2 small)
1 1/4 cup milk (1% or whatever you have on hand)
8 oz good aged cheddar cheese
3 T butter
3 scant T flour
1/2 t good quality dried mustard such as Colman’s or Watkin’s
1/8 t nutmeg
black pepper to taste
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or Panko
Optional: a tiny touch of paprika
Spoon Mage™ Note:
Use natural white or yellow cheese. Cheddar is naturally white. What makes it yellow is a plant based extract called annatto which is derived from a tropical fruit. There is nothing wrong with yellow cheese.
Always buy block cheese and grate it yourself. Cheese dries out after grating and loses flavor. If you want to add a little more cheese, that’s fine – taste the sauce after the cheese melts and add more if you wish. Careful about adding too much though or you will make a block of cheddar and cauliflower.
Get good cheese or make something else.
Ok, so what is a “scant”? That just means “not quite”. In other words, don’t pack the flour in the tablespoon measure, make your measurement a little short of the top. If you are worried about it, you are just fine with 2 1/2 T flour. If it’s a little thin that is fine. Just add more cheese as that thickens things up nicely.
Preheat the oven to 450° F.
Rub a little butter all over the interior of a 2 quart casserole dish, or spray with cooking spray. Not too much butter, just enough to give the dish a nice coating.
Grate the cheese.
Rinse and trim the cauliflower. Break the pieces into small florets that are bite sized. Either steam or microwave the florets until not quite done (approximately 8-10 minutes).
Drain the cauliflower into a colander and then pour the pretty things into the casserole dish.
Now make the sauce – a slightly thin variation on a Bechamel that will be cheesed to proper thickness.
Place the butter in a medium sauce pan set over medium heat. When the butter is melted and bubbly, add the flour and stir quickly until the flour is completely incorporated into the butter.
Add the milk in a slow stream, stirring constantly and briskly until the sauce is smooth. Continue to stir constantly, all over the bottom of the pan until the sauce thickens. Don’t stir too vigorously or the milk will get to splattering all over the stove. It does not need to come to a boil.
Once the sauce thickens, reduce the heat to very low and simmer the sauce for one minute.
Add about 6 oz (approximately 3/4) of the cheese, the mustard, nutmeg and pepper to the sauce and cook until the cheese melts (about a minute or so). Check the consistency. You want it to flow. Too much cheese or too much flour and you will have to dollop the stuff on the cauliflower. Add a little more milk to get it to a thick but easy to pour consistency.
Cover every bit of the cauliflower with the cheese sauce. There is no need to stir.
Mix the rest of the cheese with the breadcrumbs or panko and sprinkle all over the top of the cauliflower. This is where you could add a touch of paprika if you feel like being fancy.
If the casserole needs to go back in the fridge before baking, that is fine. Remove it 30 minutes ahead of baking and extend the baking time a little, 10 minutes should do. Bake it as long as you need to in order to get it all bubbling away merrily. The casserole won’t start off warm like it would have been if it was put together and then put into the oven.
Bake, uncovered, for about 15 minutes or until it’s golden brown and bubbling.
Set the dish out of the oven for about 10 minutes to allow the sauce to set a little, then serve.