The key to a good cauliflower cheese is to let the blanched cauliflower steam dry naturally before adding the cheese sauce. Also, the cheese sauce needs to be as thick as possible. If the cauliflower is too damp or the sauce too runny, you’ll end up with an undesirable watery layer at the bottom of the dish.
This recipe makes things a bit more special by adding leeks and hard-boiled eggs. It’s a vegetarian main course.
1 large cauliflower, separated into chunky florets
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
1 or 2 leeks, washed and chopped into thick slices
30g + 10g butter
4 tbsp plain white flour
approximately 200 ml milk
2 bay leaves
200 g strong cheddar cheese, grated
sea salt, pepper, freshly ground nutmeg
Bring a large pan of water to the boil. Add the cauliflower florets and boil vigorously for three or four minutes, until the stems are just tender enough to sink a knife into. Don’t overcook them. Remove them from the water and leave them to steam on a worktop or, ideally, a wire rack. They’ll never go completely dry but the more moisture that comes off them right now, the better.
Fry the leeks in a little butter over a very low heat until soft.
To make the cheese sauce, melt 30g of butter and stir in the flour. Pour in a good slosh of cold milk and turn up the heat, stirring constantly and energetically. You’ll get a thick, biscuity paste. Add more milk and keep stirring until all the lumps have gone. Add the bay leaves. Add more milk, and repeat until the sauce is the right consistency (very thick and not at all runny). It’s a balancing act, adding just enough milk so as not to ‘overload’ the amount of flour you’ve used and make it too thin. Practice makes perfect here. I always use a large pair of chopsticks for stirring this, and the sauce never goes lumpy – much better than using a wooden spoon. If you only have a wooden spoon, I’d suggest turning it upside down and stirring with the handle, as a thin stirring-stick seems to make all the difference.
Remove the bay leaves, stir in the cheese and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Finally, pile the cauliflower, eggs and leeks in a baking dish, pour over the sauce and bake at 180C until the top goes brown.