- Food & Drink
A reason to be pleased about the change in seasons, apart from all the leaves that need kicking and the hot chocolate that needs drinking, is cheese sauce. Plain old butter, flour, milk and Cheddar cheese sauce. The sauce that, when I was a child, bulged in boil-in-the-bag packets of cod and made milky ponds amongst the mash and the peas.
Because cheese sauce is far more than the chalky gloop of my memory. It’s a silk dressing gown of a sauce that slides around pasta and over cauliflower like Casanova easing his way through a convent. Slowly whisking milk into roux until it folds like a feather duvet is one of the gentlest seductions a kitchen can afford.
Since I first felt the bite of winter’s teeth I’ve made cheese sauce 3 times. My favourite way to eat it is always cauliflower cheese. A touch of bitter brassica and a blanket of dairy is as good as hot socks off the radiator for keeping you warm on cold days.
Serves 2 as a main meal or 4 as a side dish
1 large cauliflower
2 bay leaves
50g butter, chopped
50g plain flour
850ml whole milk
Nutmeg and white pepper, to season
350g strong Cheddar cheese (I used Hafod from Mootown in Herne Hill Market)
A pinch of paprika
Strip the green leaves from the cauliflower and sit in a colander on top of the bay leaves. Place over a pan of simmering water, cover with a lid and steam until tender – a skewer should slide in to the middle of the cauliflower easily.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190°C/fan oven 170°C. Melt the butter over a low heat and then stir in the flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, a dribble at a time, so it’s incorporated with the roux.
The sauce will go from being a sticky paste to thick velvet and then to a sauce that seems too thin. Keep whisking and gently simmer until the sauce thickens enough to just coat the whisk.
Stir in the majority of the Cheddar so it melts. Season with freshly grated nutmeg, white pepper and salt.
Break the cauliflower into florets and place in an ovenproof dish. Pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining Cheddar and a pinch of paprika. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden and bubbling.