Cauliflower cheese, sometimes called cauliflower and cheese, is a traditional English dish. It can be eaten as a main course, for lunch or dinner, or as a side dish.
Cauliflower cheese consists of pieces of cauliflower lightly boiled and covered with a milk-based cheese sauce, for which a strong hard cheese (such as cheddar) tends to be preferred. A more elaborate white sauce or cheese sauce flavoured with English mustard and nutmeg may also be used. The dish is topped with grated cheese (sometimes mixed with breadcrumbs) and lightly grilled to finish it.
Pasta and extra ingredients, such as tuna, are sometimes added when it is served as a main meal.
Cauliflower cheese probably came to be made at the time cauliflowers were introduced to Britain in around the 17th century, although the history of this dish is very vague. Cauliflower is thought to originate from Kythrea in Cyprus, which historically was a former British Colony. Béchamel sauce was used extensively in Cypriot cooking of the 19th Century and the early 20th Century. Anglocypriots claim to have introduced the dish to the UK. Cauliflower was said to have been introduced to the west during the French Lusignan rule of Cyprus. The Old French word for Cauliflower is chou de Chypre (Cyprus cabbage). The filling meal was probably eaten on its own by the poor when meat was not available, as was common in the 17th century. There is a recipe for cauliflower with Parmesan cheese in Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management, first published in 1861. In the 19th and 20th centuries the dish was often served as an accompaniment to the roast meat and potatoes that were eaten for the traditional Sunday lunch, normally in the winter months.
In the UK, cauliflower cheese is now widely produced as a vegetarian ready meal, and is also popular as a pre-prepared baby food.
- 1 large cauliflower, cut into large florets (about 1½ kg / 3⅓ lb)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 3 tablespoons plain flour (all-purpose flour)
- 2 cups hot milk
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ¾ cup freshly grated Gruyere cheese, divided
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup fresh breadcrumbs
- Preheat the oven to 190°C. (375°F ; Gas Mark 5).
- Cook the cauliflower florets in a large pot of boiling salted water for 5 to 6 minutes, until tender but still firm. Drain.
- Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the flour, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes. Pour the hot milk into the butter-flour mixture and stir until it comes to a boil. Boil, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, or until thickened. Off the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, ½ cup of the Gruyere, and the Parmesan.
- Pour ⅓ of the sauce on the bottom of an 28 x 18 x 5 cm (11 x 7 x 2") baking dish. Place the drained cauliflower on top and then spread the rest of the sauce evenly on top. Combine the bread crumbs with the remaining ¼ cup of Gruyere and sprinkle on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gratin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is browned. Serve hot or at room temperature.