Thursday night I had lots of cheese in the fridge and half a cauliflower, amongst other things, but they were the things that I wanted to use up. Cauliflower cheese was the obvious solution but I don't feel it's actually a main dish in its own right, not quite substantial enough or something. I toyed with the idea of crusty bread and salad as accompaniment but it still felt a bit wrong. Then I decided that some penne, about the same amount in bulk as the cauliflower, might give it sufficient oomph to be a proper mid week dinner. Not entirely certain, I cooked the penne, then the florets and finally the cheese sauce in sequence in the same pan - less washing up - and then baked it in a pyrex casserole. Served with chicory salad, I could not have wished for a finer supper.
Cauliflower & Pasta Cheese Bake
1/2 head of cauliflower, cut into floret
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 tspn ground cumin
25g unsalted butter
1 tbspn plain flour
600ml whole milk
1/2 tspn fresh ground nutmeg
150g grated Caerphilly - or other hard cheese
Cook the penne in lots of boiling salted water till just al dente. Drain and rinse.
Cook the cauliflower in lots of boiling salted water till just tender - you don't want mush! - about 10 minutes. Drain and mix with the pasta.
Melt the butter in the pan over a gentle heat and add the cumin, garlic and onion. Stir occasionally and continue cooking till the onion is translucent - about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and stir to make a paste. Cook for a few minutes till it takes on a biscuity colour.
Gradually add the milk, stirring all the time, till you have the consistency of double cream. Grate in the nutmeg, increase the heat and stir in all but a tablespoon of the cheese till it melts. Check the seasoning.
Put the pasta and cauliflower into a casserole and pour the cheese sauce over. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and the reserved grated cheese. Bake in a moderate oven, Gas4, for 25 minutes till golden and bubbling.
Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving in big bowls.
Sometimes simple is good.