Béchamel sauce and I have a love-hate relationship. I mean, I love it. I love the marriage of melted butter, flour and milk, whisked quickly over heat. I love it in macaroni and cheese and in an authentic lasagne (that is, one without ricotta. Sorry, I don’t like ricotta in my lasagne, which is sadly how most Americans make it). And I love the jaunty accent in béchamel. It might as well have a beret and smoke gauloises.
But I’d say 95% of my attempts at making béchamel sauce have failed, giving me an end result of a frustratingly thin sauce, when the goal is a thick, unctuous, creamy goo.
Last night, on the spur of the moment and with a head of cauliflower in the fridge that needed to be eaten pronto, I whipped up a cauliflower cheese. For the uninitiated, cauliflower cheese is a fantastic British recipe, particular for vegetarians in your life. It’s great when paired with a roast rib of beef, but also delicious on its own. The gist is not unlike a proper homemade macaroni cheese, except we replace the macaroni for cauliflower.
And it does involve making béchamel sauce. I tried a Nigella Lawson recipe from her Feast cookbook and voila!
It was a resounding success! Not only did the sauce turn out exactly the way I wanted, but the cauliflower was cooked just enough to be bitesome, not mushy. Bravo, Nigella! You’ve made a believer out of me.
1 large head of cauliflower
2 bay leaves
1 stick of butter
2 teaspoons English mustard
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
3 cups strong cheddar, grated, plus 1/2 cup for sprinkling on the top
Cut the cauliflower into small florets and and put in a saucepan with cold water and bay leaves. Sprinkle with salt. Bring to a boil, then drain and then refresh with cold water. Let the water drain in a colander. Then put the cauliflower in an even layer in an ovenproof dish.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan and then whisk in flour and mustard, and cook over a gentle heat for 5 minutes. Whisk in the milk off of the heat, and then put it back on the heat and keep stirring until it becomes thick and begins to bubble.
Sprinkle in the 3 cups grated cheese and stir over heat until it has melted into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower in the dish, and scatter remaining cheese over the top. Cook for 20 minutes or until the cauliflower is hot and bubbly and the cheese has browned slightly on the top.