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Rachel Allen Cauliflower Cheese.
Photo: Tony Gavin  9/1/2014

Rachel Allen Cauliflower Cheese. Photo: Tony Gavin 9/1/2014

Rachel Allen Cauliflower Cheese.
Photo: Tony Gavin  9/1/2014

Rachel Allen Cauliflower Cheese. Photo: Tony Gavin 9/1/2014

Rachel Allen's  cauliflower cheese. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Rachel Allen's cauliflower cheese. Photo: Tony Gavin.


Rachel Allen Cauliflower Cheese. Photo: Tony Gavin 9/1/2014

The marriage between cauliflower, white sauce and plenty of cheese been a long, fruitful one. It was a food we all grew up eating.

 I still remember the comfort brought by a supper of soft, simple cauliflower cheese. Browned under the grill for flavour, it is deliciously unchallenging, as irresistible to my appetite as it is to my spoon. Such a timeless classic can hardly be improved, though I do make my white sauce with an assortment of aromatics for added flavour. I also like to add the gentle heat of Dijon mustard.

Thankfully, though, there is a world for cauliflower beyond white sauce and cheese. The pretty, flowery heads are amazing absorbers of all sorts of flavours, and their soft texture is an ideal companion to the crunchy.

Roasting cauliflower brings out its real magic. With only oil, salt and heat, the cauliflower is browned, extracting a flavour that is as surprising as it is delicious. Crisp on the outside, yet still soft in the centre, roasted cauliflower makes for a wonderful snack or side dish. You can, of course, add flavourings, such as herbs or spices, as in the recipe, opposite, which uses smoked paprika (see Rachel Recommends).

A cauliflower is always at home in a curry, as it absorbs all the strong flavours and spices. The aloo gobi recipe on the opposite page uses both cauliflower and potatoes. I've roasted both in this recipe, for that gorgeous taste that browning brings to the potato, as well as to the cauliflower. This dish makes for a wonderfully simple supper, and is lovely with rice and a raita.

Cauliflower cheese


Serves 4-6.

For the white sauce, you will need:

300ml (½pt) whole milk

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A few slices of carrot

A few slices of onion

1 sprig of parsley

1 sprig of thyme

3 peppercorns

50g (2oz) roux made with 25g (1oz) butter and 25g (1oz) flour, see my Tip on the opposite page

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the whole milk into a small saucepan and add the sliced carrot, the sliced onion, the sprig of parsley, the sprig of thyme and the peppercorns. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 4-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes.

Place a sieve over a small saucepan and strain the milk through it. Bring the milk back to the boil. Whisk in the roux, a little at a time, until it is well blended, then leave to simmer gently for 4-5 minutes, or until thickened to the desired consistency, then season to taste.

For the cauliflower cheese, you will need:

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cauliflower, broken into small to medium florets, leaves reserved

300ml (½pt) white sauce (see above)

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

75g (2oz) Cheddar cheese, grated

Good pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible)

1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

You'll need a gratin dish large enough to hold the cauliflower florets in a single layer. First, fill a large saucepan with water to a depth of about 2cm and add a little salt. Arrange the cauliflower leaves on the bottom, sit the cauliflower florets on top, cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Cook for about 8-10 minutes, or until the florets are tender when pierced with a knife. Remove the cauliflower florets (discarding the leaves) drain them well and arrange in the gratin dish. In the meantime, make the cheese sauce. Put the white sauce in a small saucepan on a low heat and add the Dijon mustard and most of the grated Cheddar cheese, reserving a little to scatter over the top of the dish, and stir until the Cheddar cheese has melted. Season to taste with some salt, freshly ground black pepper and grated nutmeg.

Preheat the grill to high. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower florets in the gratin dish and then scatter with the reserved Cheddar cheese. Place the dish under the grill for 2-3 minutes, or until it is golden and bubbling on top. Scatter the chopped parsley over and serve.

Roasted cauliflower with smoked paprika

Serves 2-4 as a side dish.

You will need:

1 cauliflower, stem and core removed and cut into florets

50ml (2fl oz) olive oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas 6. In a bowl, mix together the cauliflower florets with the olive oil and the smoked paprika, and season well with some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Place on a baking tray and put in the oven. Cook for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. The edges of the dish should just be browned and the cauliflower should be tender.

Aloo gobi

Serves 4.

You will need:

1 medium cauliflower, cut into medium florets

450g (1lb) floury potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm cubes

5 tablespoons vegetable oil

½ teaspoon cumin seeds


1 medium onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 small green chilli, finely chopped

5cm (2in) piece of ginger, chopped

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

½ teaspoon freshly ground coriander

¼ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cayenne

100ml (3fl oz) water

Rice and yoghurt or raita, to serve

Preheat the oven to 230°C, 450°F, Gas 8. Place the cauliflower florets and the cubed potatoes in a bowl and add 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil, the cumin seeds and a good few pinches of salt. Spread out on a baking tray and put in the oven. Roast, tossing a few times, for about 20-25 minutes, until the florets and the potato cubes are tender and lightly browned. While the vegetables are roasting, add the remaining vegetable oil to a large frying pan and put it on a medium heat.

When it is hot, add the chopped onion, the chopped garlic, the finely chopped chilli and the chopped ginger.

Cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until slightly coloured. Add the freshly ground cumin, the freshly ground coriander, the turmeric and the cayenne and a good pinch of salt.

Cook for a further two minutes. Add the water and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan, then stir in the roasted vegetables. Cover and cook for a further five minutes, stirring a couple of times. Then serve with the rice and some yoghurt or raita, whichever you're using.

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