Pete’s Food Corner: The most excellent cauliflower cheese

Peter Moody
Peter Moody

Pete Moody grew up in Delph and also lived in Diggle and Uppermill before going up to Lancaster to study English in 1996.

He taught himself to cook from the backs of cereal boxes, Chinese whispers and Youtube, deciding the long hours, crippling financial difficulty and a snooker-player complexion were preferable to a teaching career. He is currently starting up a restaurant in Shrewsbury.

I HAD an excellent meal in a distant, Shropshire hills pub last weekend. I don’t say excellent often. I don’t eat excellent meals often. I’m a bit of a snob.

But I do this for a living and I’ve been hauled over hot coals in the past for underseasoning dishes. I’ve been verbally kicked in the proverbials for using pepper where I shouldn’t.

But some advice that stuck in my head is the following: “Salt is a flavour enhancer. Add it until you can taste the ingredients. Add, taste, add, taste. Then you won’t overdo it.”

The centrepiece in this pub was a great big casserole dish (there were nine of us, plus a greyhound) of cauliflower cheese, beautifully browned on top and still bubbling when it hit the table. It had hints of bay, clove and nutmeg and a slightly sour kick of strong cheese. I’ll try to deconstruct it.

Floret two heads of cauliflower into pieces all roughly the same size. Bring a large pan of salted water to a rapid boil and cook the cauli for eight or nine minutes and then strain, shake and tip into a casserole dish in one layer.

A good cheese béchamel sauce is two pints of milk brought gently to a simmer with eight peppercorns, a bay leaf, half a nutmeg, two cloves and half a peeled medium onion. You can add garlic if you like. When it has bubbled for a couple of minutes turn it off to let it infuse.

Meanwhile melt 4oz of butter in a pan and add four rounded tablespoons of plain flour. Cook it for a couple of minutes without it getting overly brown and then strain over the milk and reheat to a bubble, stirring with a spoon or gently whisking for five minutes.

Add a couple of handfuls of grated cheddar and continue to stir, then tip over the cauliflower. Top with another couple of handfuls of cheese and bake at 180C until brown on top. Did you taste it for seasoning? Excellent.

This goes with most roasts. I had it with a piece of cod. I would eat it on its own. I would eat it on the top of a haunted tombstone in an abandoned Siberian graveyard. It is pure comfort food for a hard winter.

 

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