I live on the ancient spice road, the very air is full of the smell of spices drying, and every neighbour’s wall is festooned with bundles of herbs and strings of peppers. So what the hell am I doing cooking something as prosaic as Cauliflower Cheese in 36 degrees of an August afternoon?
Basically, because I can! It is the last week of August and the first cauliflowers of the season have just appeared on the market stalls and after six months without a decent cauli I crave the texture of cauliflower and the tastiness of a good cheese sauce.
These early cauliflowers are still big enough to feed a family of four (or one Nick) but they are babies compared to the cream coloured monsters that will shortly be harvested and will squat beside menacing cabbages as big as a family hatchback on the market stalls. These cauli’s are dense with pure white flesh and a necklace of delicate green inner leaves just a few centimetres long – I use these too as they are pretty as well as tasty. They are full of goodness; and quickly boiled then drowned in a robust cheese sauce they are gorgeous.
Cauliflower cheese is way more than an accompaniment to a Sunday roast (although it will be on the menu most Sundays over the winter), right now it makes a great evening meal to enjoy as the sun goes down and the temperature drops and it hits the spot after a boiling hot day when you just fancy something lighter but tangy.
I make my cheese sauce with butter and Izmir Tulum (a strong cow’s milk cheese) in place of cheddar. I add 1 ½ tablespoons of plain flour to melted butter, whisking well and then gradually add 500ml of skimmed milk and a liberal teaspoon of English mustard powder to lift it. I whisk the sauce to get lightness into it and add as much cheese as the sauce will bear. I let it bubble away for five minutes, stirring all the time with a whisk, to let the flour cook through.
After quickly boiling the cauliflower for a few minutes I drain it well, and then let it air dry so it isn’t soggy and seeping water to dilute the sauce. Arrange in a shallow ovenproof dish (duh!) pour the sauce over, scatter some extra cheese and breadcrumbs on the top and bung it in a medium over for 15/20 minutes or until the top is crispy and the sauce bubbling.
For variations on a theme, if I’m feeling generous, and I have some, I may crumble crispy bacon on the top of the cauliflower cheese along with the breadcrumbs, and if I fancy a little more spice I may chop up some heavily paprika’d sujuc sausages from the village market, fry them quickly and then mix them and their cooking juices into the cheese sauce at the last minute.
Tomorrow’s menu is Garlic Roast Chicken, Sweet Roast Peppers with Basil and Rich Potato Salad with Quail’s Eggs. This is of course unless I get sidetracked by going snorkelling or reading in the pool!