THERE'S some great British produce in the shops at the moment and one of my staple, seasonal favourites is without doubt the cauliflower. Inexpensive, incredible versatile and locally produced, cauliflowers can be used in a variety of dishes and prepared in numerous ways.
A firm, waxy texture and mild flavour means that cauliflower also takes well to strong, bold flavours making it an ideal ingredient in many Indian and Middle Eastern dishes that use plenty of chillies and spices.
Back on home soil, cauliflower has also recently seen a resurgence in popularity thanks to the health food warriors who've praised its carb-swap credentials and low calorific value. Think cauliflower puree (in place of mashed potatoes), cauliflower rice and even cauliflower pizza bases.
When preparing cauliflower, be careful not to overcook it.
Not only does overcooked cauliflower smell incredible bad (remember school dinners and grandma's boiled-to-death veggies) but it also zaps all the essential nutrients. An excellent source of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals, cooking this vegetable for just 30 minutes or more is thought to decrease its nutritional value by 75%.
When buying cauliflower, look for really white and creamy centres which indicates freshness. Avoid any that are discoloured or soft with wilted leaves.
The classic British way to prepare cauliflower (and perhaps the most popular), is by smothering it in a rich and creamy cheese sauce. Popular with students, home-cooks and chefs alike, cauliflower cheese is another great dish to master and have as part of your staple culinary repertoire.
Serve it as a complete meal with some crusty bread or green salad or as a side dish alongside some meat or fish. And who doesn't let out a little gasp of delight when presented with a steaming bowl of cauli-cheese with their Sunday roast? It's an all-round winner if you ask me.
1 medium cauliflower
500ml milk (ideally full fat)
30g plain flour
1 bay leaf
1 large onion, halved
300g mature cheddar
Salt and pepper
Pre-heat the oven to 190c.
Wash and prepare the cauliflower by cutting into even sized florets. Add to a large pan of boiling salted water and cook for 3-5 minutes until tender but still retains a bite. Meanwhile, fill a bowl with iced water. Drain the cauliflower and immediately plunge into the iced water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set aside.
Gently heat the milk, onion and bay leaf in a saucepan. In a separate pan, melt the butter over a low heat and, using a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and cook for a minute or two to create a paste (do not allow to brown). Add a little of the hot milk and stir into the paste to create a roux before gradually adding the remaining hot milk, whisking continuously to maintain a smooth consistency. After a few minutes, the sauce should have thickened. Remove the onion and bay leaf and for a really smooth and silky sauce, pass through a sieve before returning to the pan. Next, add half of the cheese and season with a little salt and pepper.
Add the cauliflower to a large ovenproof dish and pour the cheese sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and place in the oven for 10-15 minutes until golden and bubbling.