We’re nearly there. The end of seemingly endless January. And it’s not been too awful, considering. Normally January is a clone of December, minus the parties, food, presents, fun. But, at least here in the UK, it’s not been too bad. Not bad at all: no snow to speak of, glorious crisp light, mild verging-on-balmy temperatures, and a gradual lengthening of day that is apparent to all but the most dreary of people.
Yesterday I overheard a gaggle of older ladies moaning about the dark days and the “bitter, bitter cold”. I felt like reminding them that we have almost 2 hours more light than on Christmas Day, and that 10 C is pretty darn warm for the time of year. We actually have colder summer days. It is very possible that these women are the same ones I hear complaining loudly about the July heat, while wearing tweed coats and hats. If you live in Edinburgh, you know what I’m talking about!
Other than the instant balm of a cheering cup of tea, one thing that might brighten these ladies up is a nice plate of cauliflower cheese.
But perhaps not as I’ve done it. They might not approve of the unorthodox method, nor the perky topping. And that’s fine. There is nothing wrong with a plate of traditional cauliflower cheese. Except that I don’t really like it all that much. Well, I like a few bites of it and then want something with a bit more dimension, whether in texture or taste. I have confessed to being a bit of a sensationalist
, preferring layers of flavour rather than something one-note, however nice. Cauliflower cheese falls into the latter category. I know, I know, it’s got nutrition superstar cauliflower
in it. As the main ingredient. But still, all that cheese, butter and blah colour doesn’t exactly inspire or excite. Basically, despite eating cauliflower perhaps twice a week, sometimes more, I rarely make cauliflower cheese. Even though when I do it’s always this cheats’ method, so at least it’s not just a vehicle for saturated fat. But I recently had a brainwave of sorts. Not like one that, say, Stephen Hawkings or Archimedes would have. That really would be something. Rather, that mixing together calmative sage and heart-healthy walnuts
might be nice. And it really is. So much so that the test batch was wolfed down by my family before I could take enough photos. Always the sign of a decent recipe in my house.
heart-healthy walnuts: eat the papery skins too!
Of course if you are vegan this particular recipe won’t be suitable. But Angela over at Vegangela
has some scrummy looking cauliflower recipes, whether or not you do dairy. One of my favourite side-dishy ways with cauliflower is to toss florets and stem in a little plain olive oil and sprinkle with my beloved za’atar, chillies, turmeric, or even just a scatter of sea salt, then roast at 180C, for about 15 minutes, until tinged with brown and gold. Unlike with the dreaded, stinky boiling, roasting takes away the slight bitterness that some folk hate, leaving a subtle almost nutty flavour. Sometimes I squeeze over a little lemon or chuck on a tablespoon or two of Parmesan cheese as it comes out of the oven. Truly delish and oh so simple. This recipe is simple too. Like the pleasures of seeing the first crocuses noseing through the frozen earth. If only some people would notice.
Sage and Walnut-Topped Cauliflower Cheese
The scant but culinarily effective duo of fresh sage and walnut elevates cauliflower cheese from ho hum to hip hooray. I might exaggerate a tad, but if I were the type to throw dinner parties, I would not be ashamed to include a great spoonful of this on each plate. It makes a quick light meal on its own with a crisp salad, or something more substantial when paired with lemony grilled fish and roasted vine tomatoes. You could even mix it into cooked pasta. And don’t worry about the missing butter and flour, the crème fraiche and hard cheese ‘magically’ create the perfect sauce. A little less fat and no gluten – no bad thing.
1 medium-large cauliflower (700-800g prepared weight), cut into florets and core sliced up too (it is just as tasty, if not more so)
4 heaped tablespoons half-fat crème fraiche (or full-fat if you need to)
100g freshly grated mature/sharp cheese such as Cheddar, Manchego, Gruyere or Red Leicester (plus 4 tablespoons for finishing the dish). Use lower-fat cheese if you like but perhaps add more mustard to make up for the non taste.
¼ tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
a good pinch of freshly ground pepper
50g walnuts, coarsely chopped
1 heaped tbsp chopped fresh sage
Steam the cauliflower pieces for about 10 minutes – longer if you need your food to be quite soft.
While the cauliflower is cooking put the crème fraiche in a medium saucepan over a low heat and let it ‘melt’ a bit before stirring in the cheese, turmeric, mustard and pepper. Whisk or stir the developing sauce as it thickens – no flour required! Taste it for seasoning and adjust if needed. You may want more mustard, for example. In a small bowl, stir together the sage and extra cheese.
Put the cooked cauliflower in a suitable gratin-type dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle on the walnut pieces and top with the sage and cheese. Pop the dish under a medium hot grill until the sauce bubbles and the walnuts are browned a bit – one to two minutes. Serve immediately. I’ve topped the dish with crumbled olive oil-fried sage leaves for extra crunch.
Serving for one: use a small cauliflower, or even 200g cooked from frozen, and half the sauce.
Leftovers? Use the leftovers as the basis of a quick soup, whizzed into hot vegetable stock and heated through. Delicious!
Soft food diet? Whiz up the walnuts until a suitable texture for you, before adding in the sage for another second or two. Cook the cauliflower to your liking and roughly mash if required.