Cauliflower Cheese

Lori Skelton

(inspired by Nigel Slater, a (British) cook who writes)


  • 4 C. milk
  • bay leaf
  • ½ half onion
  • ¼ t. allspice
  • 4 T. butter
  • 6 T. all-purpose flour
  • 1 generous C. grated sharp Cheddar
  • ¼ – ½ t. cayenne
  • 1 large cauliflower, enough for 8 C. florets
  • salt and pepper (if you use French Four Spice* instead of pepper, you might be able to skip the allspice and cayenne)
  • 2-4 T. finely grated Parmesan

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1. In a small saucepan, heat milk, bay leaf, onion and allspice just to the boil. Remove from heat and let steep while you prepare the cauliflower. Preheat oven to 425.

2. Remove leaves from cauliflower and break into two-bite-sized florets. You’ll want some of the stem, but not the tougher inner core (save that for stock or soup or puree). Put in large pot, add two inches of water, then bring to “a merry boil” (how very British, Mr. Slater), cover and steam for 10 minutes, or until the stems can be pierced with a butter knife. You want these to be toothsome, but not so firm that you will need a knife to cut them at the table. Drain, then scatter evenly in a 3-3 ½ quart baking dish.

3. Remove onion from pan of warm milk, but keep the bay leaf in. Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and sprinkle in flour, whisking as you sprinkle. Cook roux until “it is golden and smells warm and nutty” (how very cozy, Mr. Slater). Pour in warm milk, sprinkle in cayenne, and bring almost to the boil, whisking. You want a thick sauce, but you do not want lumps. Add salt and pepper, then turn heat to low and cook gently for 15 minutes. Remove bay leaf, stir in Cheddar, and taste to see if more salt or pepper (or allspice or cayenne) is needed.

4. Pour sauce over cauliflower, then dust surface with Parmesan. Bake for 20 minutes, or “until the sauce has formed a patchily golden crust and is bubbling languidly around the edge” (Did I mention that Mr. Slater is a cook who writes? I think he writes rather well.) .

*French Four Spice, or quatre épices: my not-so-secret ingredient with many vegetable dishes, especially those that have some kind of white sauce. I use Penzey’s blend, but you can make your own by combining 1 T. white pepper, ¼ t. ground cloves, 1 t. ground ginger, 1 t. grated nutmeg

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