We use a hard sheep’s cheese from the Ribblesdale Cheese Company. It’s a really small cheese-making operation in Yorkshire and – at last count – they had a full staff of two and a half. Matured sheep’s cheese has a complex flavour and tends to be less greasy than cow’s milk cheese; some say it is almost pecorino-like. The breadcrumbs bring a welcome crunch to the dish and the mustard helps to cut through the rich sauce. Do make sure you drain the cauliflower well after it has cooled, as it tends to retain liquid in the florets and can make your sauce watery.
This dish would pair well with Little Marmite potatoes (see here) or something a little fresh and acidic such as Kohlrabi, gherkin and apple salad to give balance.
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g unsalted butter
100g plain flour
300ml whole milk
200ml whipping cream
a little sunflower oil
60g breadcrumbs (make your own from stale bread, or just buy some)
½ tsp English mustard powder
½ tsp dried thyme (or fresh, but dried is faster)
300g sheep’s cheese, cut into around
1cm cubes, but don’t be fussy
Tear the outer leaves from the cauliflower, discard them and keep the light green inner leaves for later. Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil.
Meanwhile, stand the cauliflower upright and cut it into eight wedges. Add to the boiling water and cook for 5 or 6 minutes, or until tender but definitely not soft. Have a bowl of cold water ready.
Remove the cauliflower from the water with a slotted spoon (reserve the hot cooking water) and plunge into the bowl of cold water to stop it cooking. If the cold water gets warm because of the cauliflower, simply add more cold. When it has cooled, throw the cold water away and let the cauliflower drain very well in a colander. Move it around occasionally to drain off any water trapped in the florets.
While the cauliflower drains, you can make the sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter and then add the flour. Cook for a minute or two until the flour is sandy in texture, stirring all the time to prevent sticking.
Next add 300ml of cauliflower water a little at a time, stirring continuously. This will give some extra cauliflower flavour to the sauce.
Now add the milk and cream a little at a time and cook for a minute, but do not boil, then remove from the heat and allow to cool for around 10 minutes. We don’t want to stir in the cubed cheese now – it should melt in the oven so that there are little spots of melted cheese running through the sauce, hence the 10-minute wait.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas mark 6.
While you wait for the sauce to cool, put a drizzle of sunflower oil in a frying pan – just a couple of tbsp should do it – and fry the breadcrumbs for around 5 minutes over a medium heat. Add the mustard and thyme and fry for another minute, then season and remove from the heat.
Next, fold the cheese into the sauce and season it well.
Arrange the cauliflower in an ovenproof ceramic dish, hopefully one which is pretty enough to be presented at the table. Spoon the sauce over so it covers the cauliflower.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs on top and bake for 10 minutes; you are not cooking this but rather crisping up the breadcrumbs and melting the cheese. Also your sauce will still be warm, so you have a head start.
Quickly fry the light-green inner leaves reserved earlier in a little oil until tender. Season well.
To serve, either present it in the cooking dish or spoon out on to plates, trying to make sure the breadcrumbs do not disappear under the sauce. Add the cooked cauliflower leaves; they are tastier than you might imagine.