Baked Cauliflower Cheese

Amazingly cauliflowers, sprouts, broccoli, kale and cabbages not only all belong to the same genus, i.e. Brassica but they all belong to the same species, oleracea! The fact that the single species, Brassica oleracea can produce so many wildly different cultivars is a reflection of the important role these plants have in agriculture right around the world as well as the length of time that they have been under cultivation.

Initially at least there can be no doubt as to the cauliflower’s cabbagey credentials wrapped in a cocoon of heavily ribbed outer leaves, even here in this relatively young specimen where only the inner leaves remain the whole appearance shouts CABBAGE but remove these leaves and the central white mass or curd of the cauliflower is revealed. The curd as the name cauliflower suggests is the immature flower head of the plant.

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Cauliflower has a long, though not necessarily glamorous place in British cooking; those of us of a certain age will remember how, like all other vegetables, it was boiled to the point of destruction before being triumphantly served. However, when cooked sympathetically and with respect this vegetable with its unique flavour has a lot to offer and it finds its way into numerous recipes, especially Indian ones but on this occasion I am going to focus on that all time comfort food dish of cauliflower cheese. The secret to a really good cauliflower cheese is ensuring that the cauliflower does not become too wet or over cooked before adding the cheese sauce. In this recipe the soft mellow creaminess of the cheese sauce and baked cauliflower is contrasted  against the salty intensity of Smoked Black Forest ham combined with a dusting of the wonderful and too little used spice, mace (for more about mace see http://wholespice.com/blog/?p=1468).

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Baked Cauliflower Cheese and Smoked Black Forest Ham

Ingredients

Serves 2-3 as a side dish or if you prefer not to share you have a perfect warming super for one.

 1 x cauliflower medium-sized (approx 15 -20 cm in diameter)

4 x  slices of Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest Smoked ham from Lidl)

olive oil

550 ml milk

1 x bay leaf

2 x cloves

50 g plain white flour

50 g butter

125 g grated cheddar (try using other cheeses that you have to hand either for the sauce and / or the topping)

ground mace (freshly grated nutmeg could also be used)

freshly ground black pepper; crush a few peppercorns in a pestle and mortar

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Here’s How

To start begin making the sauce. Place the milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil and then remove from the heat while adding the bay leaf and cloves and set to one side so as to allow the flavours to develop.

Switch on the oven and set to 190oC (fan oven) and leave to warm up.

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Prepare the cauliflower by removing the leaves and then break the curd into roughly equally sized florets while cutting off any thick stems. Place the florets in a steamer and steam on top of wok for 5 – 10 minutes using a skewer to judge when the florets are cooked through; they should still be firm. Do not over cook. Remove the steamer from the wok and leave to cool with the lid off the steamer; this will help the cauliflower lose any excess water.

Complete making the cheese sauce by mixing the butter and flour together over a low heat to form a roux. Remove the bay leaf and cloves from the milk and gradually add all of the milk to the roux, mixing all of the time so to ensure a smooth lump free sauce. Increase the heat slightly and slowly add all but a small handful of the cheese to the sauce while continuing to stir. As the cheese melts into the sauce the mixture will become thicker and after stirring for a further minute or so the sauce should be taken off the heat.

To assemble the dish place the florets in a suitable oven proof dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Finish with a light sprinkling of mace as well as the remaining cheese and place in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

At the same time place the slices of ham on a lightly oiled baking tray in the oven and cook for 5 -10 minutes until they are crisp but not burnt. When done remove the slices and place on some kitchen towel to mop up any excess fat or oil.

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Once the sauce on the cauliflower has begun to colour the dish is ready and can be removed from the oven. Pieces of the cooked ham can then be sprinkled over the cauliflower and the dish served.

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Be careful it will be extremely hot!

 Enjoy

 

 

 

 

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Mid Winter (Blues) Greens!

Those of you who know me will be aware that I am not big on seasonality; by that I don’t mean that I am indifferent to the changing seasons, far from it but its more a case of believing that while the dishes we cook should be appropriate to the season and more particularly the weather I am not going to restrict what I cook and eat to what is available locally. Of course this in part reflects where I live. In West Central Scotland the growing season is all too short and limiting, perhaps I would feel differently if I lived in the south west of England or even better California but I don’t!

When I first came to live in Scotland moving from London to Edinburgh during the latter part of the 1970s little did I realise what was in store for me. Visits to the green grocer were incredibly depressing both in terms of the variety and quality of the produce on offer. This was especially true during the winter months with root vegetables predominating large dirty potatoes lurked unloved in dusty bins together with piles of carrots, swedes and parsnips if you were lucky you might also find some beetroot, though rarely raw but instead boiled as if such culinary complexities were beyond the average housewife! As well as root vegetables there was always a collection of indifferent looking greens, though in keeping with the season many of these had a blue tinge including the leeks and cabbages.

While living in London I regularly passed though rarely visited, being only a poor student at the time, Justin de Blank’s shop on Elizabeth Street in Belgravia. The shop had a dizzying variety of wonderful vegetables and fruit and after this Edinburgh was a rude shock! How things have changed! To day the supermarkets are full of the most amazing fruit and veg with near year round availability. Ironically this transformation lead to the demise of Justin de Blank’s shop and many other small independent grocers all of whom could no longer compete against the buying power of the large supermarkets. In Glasgow where I now live we still have a number of small green grocers preeminent among which is Roots and Fruits who have branches on Great Western Road as well as on Argyle Street, sadly they no longer have a store on Byres Road having been forced out of business when Waitrose opened a supermarket next  door to them. Don’t get me wrong, I shop at supermarkets, probably more than most but I also value the independent store with its more eclectic collection of fruit and vegetables and their individuality “shops with personality” perhaps describes it best. A few things still remain very seasonal the most obvious of which include forced rhubarb, gooseberries, Jerusalem artichokes, chanterelle and perhaps they taste all the better and more special for that?

Perhaps as a result of being a photographer as well as a foodie much of my food buying tends to be driven by what something looks like and its photographic potential is rather than it purely culinary merits. Of course this has lead to some interesting challenges in the kitchen after a shoot! Recently I have been seeing something in the green grocers and supermarkets which is not only a great subject to photograph but it is also seasonal, local (potentially at least) easy to cook and tastes great! By which I of course mean the king of winter vegetables; savoy cabbage!

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The sheer theatricality of this cabbage with its blistered blue green outer leaves which curl back to reveal progressively lighter coloured layers of leaves around the dense pale crown is hard to beat. Not only is it good to look at but it stores well and is easy to cook, there are many recipes for savoy cabbage including a number for stuffed cabbage but I prefer to keep things simple:

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Savoy Cabbage, Leek and Bacon

Ingredients

Serves 2 as a side dish or if you prefer not to share just add some slices of crusty bread and you have a perfect super for one.

 1 x savoy cabbage

1 x leek

4  rashers of smoked back bacon

olive oil

butter, about 15 g

freshly ground black pepper, crush a few peppercorns in a pestle and mort

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Here’s How

First, prep the ingredients:

Cut the bacon into roughly postage stamp sized pieces (approx 20mm x 20mm),

Cut the head and base off the leek and remove the first outer layer, rinse in cold water to remove any soil trapped around in the leaves at the top of the leek and then cut into discs, each disc about 5 to 7 mm thick.Depending on the size of the leek you will probably only use about half of the leek, I prefer the greener discs from the top half of the leek for their added colour.

To prepare the cabbage; fold back and snap off the largest of the rough dark coloured outer leaves and discard. Break off as many of the remaining leaves as you can and set to one side. You will then be left with a core of densely packed, almost white leaves and this can be cut into thick slices. Cut the tough central midrib from the leaves you previously set aside as well as from the slices of core and discard. Then cut the leaves into stamp sized place in a colander and rinse in thoroughly in cold water. Leave the leaves to drain but don’t make any extra effort to remove the water as you will need the leaves to be wet when they are cooked.

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Cook:

Saute the bacon in a little olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat; as the fat in the bacon is rendered down it will supplement the olive oil in the cooking so don’t rush to add more oil until you see how much fat comes out of the bacon.

Stir the bacon bits occasionally so that both sides are cooked equally.

After 5 to 10 minutes the bacon will begin to colour, add the leek and cook for about 5 more minutes, stirring as before.

Add the still wet cut cabbage and butter: season with pepper and using a wooden spatula carefully mix all of the contents of the sauce pan until the butter has all melted and the bottom of the pan is deglazed.

Put the lid on the pan; turn the heat down to low and leave for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally so as to ensure that the cabbage doesn’t catch and burn. Unlike other cabbages savoy cabbage doesn’t smell while cooking unless you burn it!

After which, taste, adjust the seasoning if required and serve.

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 Simple comfort food perfect for a cold winter evening… enjoy

For more photos of savoy cabbage see http://www.greenshootsphotography.com/#!vegetables—savoy-cabbage/czjo