This recipe is adapted from one in my old Betty Crocker cookbook. A tender head of steamed cauliflower is cloaked in a velvety cheese sauce. As a bonus, any leftovers can be pureed into a creamy soup.
1 large head (about 2 pounds) cauliflower
a heel of bread* (optional)
Remove the leaves, stalk, and any bruised or discolored areas, leaving the whole head of cauliflower intact. Rinse thoroughly and drain. Place a rack or steamer basket in a large saucepan. Add an inch of water and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Place the cauliflower on the rack and place the bread (if using) on top of the cauliflower. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 20-25 minutes, just until tender. While the cauliflower is steaming, prepare the cheese sauce.
*Placing a slice of bread on top of the cauliflower absorbs some of the "aroma" and keeps it from filling the whole house. This helps when cooking broccoli and cabbage, too.
Betty Crocker may have enjoyed processed American cheese, but I like to use extra-sharp aged cheddar in this sauce. Be careful not to let the sauce boil after you add the cheese or it may separate.
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
one or two dashes of cayenne pepper, to taste
paprika for garnishing
In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until foamy. Stir in the flour, dry mustard, salt and white pepper with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper until smooth and bubbling. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Add the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat and season with cayenne. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.
When the cauliflower is tender, carefully remove it from the pan and allow any water to drain off. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Pour half of the cheese sauce over the top, letting it run down the sides of the cauliflower. Garnish with paprika. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Note: I use ground white pepper because it is invisible, but black pepper is fine, too. You can buy white pepper in the bulk spice section of most grocery stores.
Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup: Turn your leftovers into a creamy soup for a light lunch or first course later in the week. Puree the cauliflower and any remaining cheese sauce with equal parts milk and chicken stock (canned or made from chicken soup base). Start with a half cup of each and add more to desired consistency. Heat gently to serving temperature. Do not boil. Alternatively, you can freeze the leftovers (without additional milk and stock) to make soup at a later date.