Main course: Serves 2


In the same way that it now seems quite absurd to me to suggest that you accompany a suitably wet or buttery dish with "good crusty bread'', it seems equally absurd to make the suggestion - or insist - that you should, in this case, choose to purchase a cauliflower that is, say, "super-fresh, with crisp green outer leaves and inner curds that are firm and creamy white''.

If you choose to buy a cauli that is old, stale and fetid, this is entirely a matter for you. If you also prefer to eat stale, dull bread, then so be it. I can't help those who can't be bothered to look in the first place, before they buy. Then again, if funds are tight, a damaged market cauliflower a little past its best and sold off cheaply can still make a nice cauliflower cheese - just so long as you know how to make nice cheese sauce for it in the first place ...

1 cauliflower, green leaves removed and the curds broken into roughly even-sized florets
salt
500ml full-cream milk
2 cloves
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
75g butter
50g flour
a little freshly grated nutmeg and white pepper
200g grated cheese - plus a little extra for sprinkling over the surface

Boil the cauliflower florets in salted water until almost tender (remember, they will continue to cook while in the sauce, in the oven). Drain and carefully lay out on a folded tea towel; their cooking water will continue to exude for quite some minutes after draining, and there is absolutely nothing worse than a finished cauli cheese with a runny bottom.

Preheat the oven to 375°F/190°C/gas mark 5. Put the milk, cloves, onion and bay leaf in a small saucepan and bring up to a simmer. Cook for a minute or two, cover and leave to infuse for 10 minutes or so. In another pan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook, stirring over a low light for a few minutes, remove from the heat and then strain in the hot milk all in one go. Whisk together vigorously until well amalgamated. Now, using a wooden spoon, stir continuously until the sauce begins to thicken and becomes very smooth indeed. Leave to cook for a further 10 minutes over the merest heat; one of those heat-diffuser pads employed here would be a good idea. Stir in the cheese until it has fully melted into the sauce.

Place the cauliflower in an ovenproof dish that will accommodate it snugly. Carefully pour over the sauce so that it fully coats each floret and sprinkle with the extra cheese. Bake in the oven for a good 25-30 minutes, or until the surface of the dish is well blistered and bubbling nicely around the edges.

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