A few nights ago, after days of being ‘good’ and cooking at home (minus a cheese sandwich for lunch at the local deli) and eating lots of vegetables and quinoa and fruit I wanted – nay, craved – some comfort food. Something cheesy and satisfying – though, if I can be honest, I also wanted something slightly healthy incorporated too. My mind then fixed on Rachel’s aptly named ‘Cauliflower Cheese’, especially since cauliflower has been off my radar lately and I have been missing it a bit. The reality that the dish called for a good helping of parmesan and cheddar cheeses didn’t hurt.
Look at this as a cauliflower-and-cheese casserole, almost a cauliflower mac and cheese of sorts minus the mac. You might like to incorporate some spinach or even mushrooms every so often, though I don’t think you need to bother. It’s a pretty great one pan for dinner dish: butter beans are scattered atop the slightly cooked cauliflower to give it more substance and protein, and then there is that delicious, delightful cheese. A salad alongside is imperative to balance out the richness of the cheese, but other than that small, quick addition you’re good to go.
First I blanched the cauliflower florets and while they were doing their thing I put in yet another test batch of banana muffins, this time with a combination of hazelnut meal and oatmeal flour (plus olive oil, maple syrup, and a couple of eggs; dairy-free and flourless!) and cocoa powder. I don’t even want to tell you how many times I have tweaked this particular banana recipe but, lord willing, this was the last time. After the muffins were baked, the oven was freed for the glorious magic that became softly steamed cauliflower enveloped in a velvety cheese-and-butter sauce (did I mention the butter? Did I mention this was comfort food at its best?) and topped with a bit of crunch from a scattering of bread crumbs. At the same time I cooked a pot of matzo ball soup for old times’ sake (and because that’s comfort, too) and so it occurred to me that this particular casserole could serve very well for Passover, still in full swing, prompting me to get my act together to share it today.
To that end, adapt this recipe to be flourless and thus Passover-appropriate by sprinkling the top with matzo meal rather than breadcrumbs (or omit altogether) and use potato starch or matzo cake meal in place of the flour when making the sauce. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to eat this with a meat dish, but perhaps you’re like me and hew to the vegetarian diet; as it is, I think along with that aforementioned crisp salad or a pile of sauteed greens you’d hardly want for anything else.
I wouldn’t doubt other cheeses, such as Gruyere, would also be wonderful here; try a combination if that suits your fancy. I know I will the next time around. Though this dish is dangerous, difficult to eat just one serving (we each had two for dinner; we couldn’t help it), I think once in awhile we can all be permitted such an indulgence. On a blustery March San Francisco night, with the wind rattling the windows in their panes while we wore wool socks and warm sweaters to ward off the spring chill, it was exactly what I wanted.
Cauliflower Cheese, adapted fromRacheleats
Rachel’s recipe is written in grams and mls, so I have translated that here for an American audience (such as myself). I will note I made a few changes, such as omitting the step of steeping a clove-studded onion in milk, and cooking the sauce a bit less than the original instructions called for, but to see the recipe as written please click above.
Makes 6 generous servings
1 large cauliflower
2 2/3 cups whole milk
6 tbsp unsalted butter + 2 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
6 tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 cup extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, oregano, or herbs du Provence
1 can butter beans, drained
Heat oven to 400° F.
Wash and break the cauliflower into large florets. Bring a large pan of well salted water to a rolling boil and drop in the florets. Boil the florets for about 5-8 minutes or until they are tender when pierced with a knife. Pour the florets carefully through a collander to drain, being careful not to break them.
Meanwhile, in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the 6 tbsp butter. Whisk in the flour and cook over low heat, stirring, for about 2 minutes until a thick pasta forms (the roux). Gradually pour the milk into the roux whisking constantly. Bring the sauce to a simmer and simmer, whisking, for about 5-10 minutes, until the sauce is very thick. Stir in all but a small handful of the grated cheese, the salt and pepper, and the dried herbs.
Arrange the florets in a baking dish, scatter the drained butter beans over the top, and pour over the cheese sauce over the entire dish. Scatter the surface with breadcrumbs, the remaining cheese and remaining 2 tbsp butter.
Place in the oven and bake for twenty minutes or so or until the surface is blistered and golden and the sauce is bubbling at the edges. Remove and eat while hot.