There’s been a definite nip of fall in the weather lately – while there are people frying in the high heat of California, here in Columbus we’ve been having what I call “jacket weather” – temperatures that are cool enough to need to wear a windbreaker or light jacket if you go outside for more than a couple minutes. I’m sure 4 months from now our current weather will seem downright tropical, but in the meantime I’ve been looking for something warm and hearty to fill my belly.
Bethia’s recipe for Cauliflower Cheese certainly fits the bill. Using the best of local ingredients, it’s a little bit of heaven on a plate. If you’re local, please do use the aged smoked cheddar and double smoked bacon from Thurn’s, as it does definitely make a difference in the final dish.
adapted slightly from Hungrywoolf’s Food Blog
1 large head cauliflower
8 tbsp + 3 tbsp. butter
10 tbsp. all purpose flour
4 c. whole milk
Salt & pepper
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg to taste
10 oz. Thurn’s or other double smoked slab bacon, diced small
1 lb. Thurn’s smoked 5 year or other aged smoked cheddar, grated
1 c. Italian seasoned panko bread crumbs
Break the cauliflower into florets. Steam it for 15 minutes until tender, and set aside and keep warm.
Saute the diced bacon in a wok on high heat until crispy – then remove from wok with slotted spoon (so fat is drained) and set aside. Reserve bacon grease for other uses.
Make a bechamel sauce: melt a stick (8 tbsp) of butter (you can replace up to a tbsp. of the butter with bacon grease for increased bacon flavor) in a pan over moderate heat and then stir in flour a spoonful at a time until you have a thick paste (a roux). Cook the roux for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time and watch it expand. Slowly add milk and keep stirring until you have a smooth, thick sauce. You may want to switch to using a whisk. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Gradually stir in 2/3 of the grated cheese. Save the rest to sprinkle on top.
Put the cauliflower into a 9 x 13″ baking dish and then pour the sauce over it. Then, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. In small saucepan, melt 3-4 tbsp. butter and then mix it through the bread crumbs to moisten them. Sprinkle the buttered bread crumbs on top.
Bake in a 400F for 30 minutes or until bread crumbs are browned and casserole is bubbling. Sprinkle the reserved bacon on top when it comes out of the oven, and serve.