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Recipe: Cheat's Cauliflower Cheese

Jane Lovett on how to cheat on the culinary front with a classic recipe - cauliflower cheese

Cheat's cauliflower cheese for the hard-pressed cook
Cheat's cauliflower cheese for the hard-pressed cook

I have just got back home after several weeks ‘on the road’ doing cookery demonstrations around the country and I must say it’s very nice to be back.

Himself is thrilled, too, but I suspect this is due largely to the fact that normal kitchen service has resumed rather than any other reason!

Suddenly, though, December has crept up on me. Christmas is just around the corner and, instead of life going at a more relaxed pace, having ‘broken up’ until next year, I seem to have even more on my plate than ever.

So, as this is a particularly busy time of year for us all, I think we are allowed to cheat a little on the culinary front.

Now I’m not suggesting buying ready meals or living off baked beans and takeaways, but merely using a few clever shortcuts to speed things up a little – just as I did for lunch on Sunday with a speedy way to make cauliflower cheese.

This version avoids the need to make a classic roux-based cheese sauce, using instead crème fraiche and eggs as the base, with a few added flavourings.

Hence no advance cooking required for the sauce at all.

Just mix all the ingredients together and spoon over the cooked cauliflower. Easy!

It can be made several days in advance, too, and kept in the fridge until required.

I am quite fussy when it comes to cooking cauliflower - and broccoli, too, for that matter. Big florets of either are a turn-off as far as I’m concerned.

Instead I like to break the heads down into much, much smaller branches with the help of a small knife, splitting and pulling them apart into their natural smaller florets.

These take no time at all to cook in well-salted boiling water.

Drain the cauliflower very well and then spread out into a shallow, oven-proof gratin dish.

Just before required, spoon over the quickie cheese sauce, making sure the top layer of cauliflower is completely coated.

I like to scatter a few dried breadcrumbs over the grated cheese topping as this makes the loveliest even-coloured golden crust and soaks up the fat that inevitably seeps out of the grated cheese topping during cooking.

Little pockets of fat sitting atop a gratin are not a pretty or appetizing sight, so this is a good method to employ for all gratins.

Almost any hard cheese can be used in the sauce but I would recommend something local from the large selection produced by Doddington Cheese (www.doddingtondairy.co.uk) or the Northumberland Cheese Company (northumberlandcheese.co.uk)

Now, talking of short cuts, I must remember to stock up on baked beans for Christmas – cold ham and jacket potatoes just aren’t the same without them!

  • Find lots more simple but contemporary recipes in Jane’s book Make it Easy, available from bookshops and Amazon. Follow Jane on Twitter @Jane_Lovett

Cheat’s Cauliflower Cheese

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 medium-sized cauliflower

salt and freshly ground black pepper

300 g / 11oz full-fat crème fraiche

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

2 eggs, lightly beaten

110 g / 4 oz hard cheese, grated

a few dried breadcrumbs

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas6/Aga Roasting oven.

2. Cut off and discard any tough outer leafy stalks from the cauliflower but reserve the inside tender ones.

Break the large cauliflower florets off the core and split them into smaller florets with a small knife. Cut the central core into bite-sized chunks.

3. Cook the cauliflower, core chunks and reserved leaf stalks in boiling salted water until just tender.

This will only take a few minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water to stop them cooking. Spread out on kitchen towel to drain further. Arrange in a shallow oven-proof gratin dish.

4. To make the sauce mix together the crème fraiche and Dijon mustard, followed by the eggs. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Reserve a little of the cheese for the topping and stir the rest into the sauce.

5. Spoon the sauce over the cauliflower making sure the top layer is completely coated. Scatter with the reserved cheese and a few breadcrumbs, if using. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling.

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