Cauliflower Cheese

Cauliflower Cheese

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Cauliflower Cheese

Cauliflower Cheese in a baking dish, fresh out of the oven ready to be served

Cauliflower Cheese is a British dish that is served as a side or even as a main (vegetarian!) It’s a cauliflower bake, smothered in a creamy cheese sauce that’s popped in the oven until bubbly and golden. While perhaps not the lightest dish in my repertoire, it is however hands down the most delicious cauliflower recipe I know!

Cauliflower Cheese in a baking dish, fresh out of the oven ready to be served

Cauliflower Cheese

A really great Cauliflower Cheese recipe has been on my radar ever since I experienced a great example at a well-known steakhouse in Sydney some years ago!

There’s plenty of recipes out there that tell you to just boil up some cauliflower, cover it in a béchamel sauce, throw in some cheese, and bake it. While that’s totally fine, you do end up with that distinctly sulphurous, boiled cauliflower flavour (not my favourite taste in the world) and run the risk of patches of watery sauce.

The better way to make Cauliflower Cheese? Roast the cauliflower. It’s got better flavour and avoids the pitfalls of a watery sauce. Second tip: Umm … don’t hold back on the cheese! Be bold and true to the name – Cauliflower CHEESE!!

Cauliflower Cheese in a bowl, ready to be eaten
Don’t just think of Cauliflower Cheese as a side. That bowl pictured above was my lunch!

What goes in Cauliflower Cheese

Here’s what you need to make Cauliflower Cheese:

1. Roasted cauliflower

As mentioned above, I really believe it’s better to roast rather than boil or steam the cauliflower like most recipes do. Roasting coaxes out more flavour instead of boiling it all away!

To roast cauliflower, we just need salt, pepper and a little olive oil. And a cauliflower. 😂 A big one! We need 1kg / 2lb of florets after removing from the main stem. This equates to around a 1.25kg / 2.5lb whole cauliflower head (or 2 small, or 1 1/2 medium).

Ingredients in Cauliflower Cheese

2. Cheese sauce for Cauliflower Cheese

Here’s what you need for the cheese sauce. This is called a Mornay sauce, and is nothing more than béchamel sauce (white sauce) with cheese added!

Ingredients in Cauliflower Cheese
  • Flour and butter – Melted butter cooked with flour is called a roux and this is what thickens the Mornay sauce;

  • Milk and cream – The liquids for this cheese sauce. Cream is optional. It enriches the sauce for an extra-luxurious finish and I highly recommend it if you’re making this for company. But for everyday purposes, just using milk is fine!

  • Cheeses – I like to use two different cheeses in the recipe. Specifically:

    • Red Leicester – A sharp English cheddar-like cheese which packs a good flavour wallop, and adds a distinct orange-y tinge to the sauce. Easy sub for US: Your orange cheddar. It has the same colour and similar flavour. Other subs: Any cheddar cheese;

    • Gruyère – A semi-hard Swiss cheese with the most gorgeously nutty flavour and superior melting qualities. It is not the cheapest cheese here in Australia, so reserve this for when you want the best of the best. For other times, use Swiss cheese (which is a mass-produced cheese in the style of gruyère and similar Alpine cheeses), Jarlsberg, more cheddar, Colby or other melting cheese of choice;

  • Nutmeg – A classic inclusion for béchamel-based sauces, which lifts the creamy flavour. But it’s not the end of the world if you don’t have it! Use freshly grated nutmeg if you can. Whole nutmeg for grating are inexpensive and last “forever”, and the flavour really is so much better!

🇦🇺 PRO CHEESE TIP for fellow Australians: Give Tasty cheese a miss for cream sauces like that for Cauliflower Cheese. It has a tendency to split and the melting qualities are not always the best.


How to make Cauliflower Cheese

Here’s how to make Cauliflower Cheese:

How to make Cauliflower Cheese
  1. Prepare to roast – Break/cut cauliflower into bite-size florets. Toss in oil, salt and pepper then spread on a large tray. Don’t make them too small otherwise they will cook too quickly and become overly soft which can lead to a watery sauce (overcooked cauliflower leaches water);

  2. Roast for just 20 minutes at 220°C / 430°F (200°C). The cauliflower will be mostly cooked but still be a bit firm inside and will have a bit of colour on it. It will finish cooking in the sauce;

  3. Heat milk and cream using your method of choice, either in a saucepan or a jug in the microwave. Heating the milk helps to ensure the sauce is silky smooth with less whisking effort;

  4. Make sauce – Using a large saucepan or small pot (big enough to hold the cauliflower added later), cook melted butter and flour for 3 minutes over medium-low heat. This step is to cook out the rawness from the flour.

    Make sure it’s on a low heat so the mixture doesn’t brown. We want a white sauce! Now slowly pour the hot milk in while whisking continuously to ensure your sauce will be lump-free. Keep stirring the sauce over the heat for about 1 minute and you’ll notice it thickens quite quickly;

  5. Add cheese – Stir in the cheese. This thickens the sauce considerably, which is why we don’t need to cook the sauce to thicken it as long as we do in other recipes made with béchamel sauce;

  6. Coat cauliflower – Add cauliflower and mix to coat in the cheesy sauce;

  7. Transfer to baking dish – Pour the mixture in a baking dish and top with shredded cheese; and

  8. Bake 30 minutes until it’s bubbly, golden and fabulous. That moment when you pull it out of the oven … *faints*!!!

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Dish of freshly baked Cauliflower Cheese

Isn’t the golden colour of the sauce amazing?? That’s the Red Leicester at work. It’s worth hunting down for this dish! As I mentioned above, those of you in the States can just use your everyday cheddar for the same colour effect and very similar flavour. 🙂

Close up of Cauliflower Cheese

What to serve with Cauliflower Cheese

This is a cauliflower side dish that’s unapologetically indulgent, intended to replicate the luxury you’d expect from sides offered at high end steakhouses or a particularly lavish Sunday roast.

So with that in mind, some mains that come to mind that will go exceptionally well with this include:

Or for something a little speedier, try:

And as I mentioned in the introduction, while most people think of this as a side dish, it’s certainly also main-worthy. Vegetarians in particular have good reason to go bonkers. But no one at all in their right mind would ever turn down a big bowl of this!! – Nagi x


Watch how to make it

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Cauliflower Cheese

Recipe video above. Most people think of this British classic as a side dish, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s equally worthy as a main!

Most recipes will have you just boil the cauliflower, but it’s honestly so much tastier roasted. As for the cheese? I’ve gone with my favourite combination of Red Leicester and gruyere! Excellent melting qualities for a silky smooth sauce with a gorgeous golden colour and wonderful flavour. But any melting cheese will work a treat here. See the post for details!

Course Side
Cuisine British, Western
Keyword cauliflower bake, cauliflower cheese, cauliflower gratin
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Servings 5 – 6 as a side
Calories 604cal
Author Nagi

Ingredients

Roasted cauliflower:

  • 1kg / 2 lb cauliflower florets (1 very large, 1 1/2 medium or 2 small cauliflower heads, Note 1)
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

Cheese sauce (Mornay sauce):

  • 60g / 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 30g / 3½ tbsp flour , plain / all-purpose
  • 1 cup milk (full fat best)
  • 1 cup cream (or more milk)
  • 1/2 tsp cooking salt (kosher salt)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg powder (freshly grated is best)
  • 100g / 1 cup Red Leicester cheese (or cheddar), grated (Note 2)
  • 50g / ½ cup gruyère cheese , grated (or other melting cheese of choice, Note 2)

Topping:

  • 50g / ½ cup Red Leicester cheese (or cheddar), grated (Note 2)
  • 50g / ½ cup gruyère cheese , grated (or other melting cheese of choice, Note 2)

Instructions

Roasted cauliflower:

  • Preheat oven to 220°C / 430°F (200°C fan).
  • Toss cauliflower in oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a large tray.
  • Roast 20 minutes (don’t turn). Cauliflower should still be a bit firm, but with some colour on them. Remove from oven.
  • Turn oven down to 180°C/350°F.

Cheese sauce (Mornay sauce):

  • Heat milk: Heat milk and cream until hot – either on the stove or in microwave.
  • Make roux: Melt butter in a large saucepan or small pot over medium heat. Add flour and cook, stirring regularly, for 3 minutes.
  • Add milk: While stirring, pour in half the milk. Once the roux is dissolved into the milk (mixture will thicken), stir in remaining milk. Stir on the heat for 1 minute – mixture should be thick enough to coat a wooden spoon.
  • Add cheese: Turn the stove off, but leave the pot on the turned off stove. Stir in salt, nutmeg and both cheeses. The cheese will thicken the mixture so it’s like a thick sauce.
  • Mix in cauliflower: Add cauliflower and toss to coat in the sauce.

Bake:

  • Fill baking dish: Transfer mixture to a 2L / 2qt baking dish (30 x 20 x 5cm / 12 x 8 x 2″).
  • Bake at 180°C/350°F for 30 minutes until the cheese is melted, and cauliflower is bubbly and golden.
  • Serve: Sprinkle with parsley if desired. Stand 5 minutes then serve!

Notes

1. Cauliflower – You’ll need a large one ~ 1.25kg / 1.5lb to get 1 kg / 2lb florets. Pro tip: See here for how I cut cauliflower into florets with minimal mess.

2. Cheese – It’s always best to grate your own rather than buying pre-shredded stuff, which contains anti-caking agents that can make sauces powdery. If using cups instead of weight measures, grate then pack the cheese tightly into the cup to measure.

  • Red Leicester – An orange coloured, sharp English cheddar-like cheese. Used for its excellent flavour and colour. US: Sub with your cheddar, it’s virtually the same. Others: Sub Swiss cheese (which is mass-produced gruyère-like cheese), Jarslberg, Colby, cheddar, or any other cheese. (For Australia, I do not recommend Tasty cheese, it doesn’t melt so well in this type of sauce);
  • Gruyère –  A type of Swiss cheese with a gorgeous nutty flavour and superior melting qualities. Sub with any of the above listed, or other type of Alpine cheese (emmental, comte).

3. Storage – Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3 to 4 days. Freezer not recommended.

Make ahead: Cool cauliflower fully then toss in sauce. Store in a container. When ready to cook, heat mixture slightly so you can toss the cauliflower in the sauce. Transfer to baking dish, top with cheese, bake per recipe.

4. Nutrition per serving. This recipe as written is unapologetically indulgent, replicating the luxury you’d get at high end steakhouses with the cream and best cheeses for this dish. If you switch the cream for more milk, it decreases to 460 calories per serving. And you’ll cut 40 calories per serving for every ½ cup / 50g of cheese you cut out of the recipe.

Nutrition

Calories: 604cal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 20g | Fat: 52g | Saturated Fat: 30g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 148mg | Sodium: 876mg | Potassium: 758mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1580IU | Vitamin C: 97mg | Calcium: 495mg | Iron: 2mg

Life of Dozer

Action shot of Dozer captured by Kevin from Unleashed Northern Beaches Dog Photography at Bayview beach on the weekend!

Dozer running Bayview - photo by Unleased Northern Beaches

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