Cauliflower covered in bubbling, boozy rarebit cheese sauce is hard to resist, especially when the cauliflower is given a boost through a simple brining. Enjoy as a side dish, light lunch or supper. Easy cheesy goodness guaranteed!
Cauliflower is at its very best right now. This nutritious vegetable, its milky-hued curds cradled in a cap of pale sweet leaves, is so achingly on-trend I almost feel silly posting such an old-fashioned recipe. Dear old cheesy rarebit sauce, normally a simple bubbling topping for toast, is however made for cauliflower.
Although delicious as a plain mash or roasted, cauliflower adores strong flavours of aged good cheese, nose-stinging English mustard and deep amber ale. I was inspired to pair cauliflower with rarebit following the recent event I attended at Waitrose Cook School, where we had some excellent, simple vegetable dishes alongside the traditional lamb and salmon. Their brown butter cauliflower rarebit was so good I could have happily just eaten this very humble dish. Indeed, rarebit is, according to Felicity Cloake, “a very Sunday-evening, empty fridge type of dish”. As my kitchen is as likely to have a cauliflower as bread these days, this statement is very true for me.
When I got home I set about doing my own version, with a rarebit I whizzed up in my blender, rather than making on the hob as is traditional. Normally I make mine with dark ale, but I also played with using a sharp-sweet English cider – both are good, adding a depth of flavour that can be missing in a standard cheese sauce. You’ll see that I’ve used cute little mini caulis from Waitrose, but this recipe will cover a whole cauliflower, no problem. One mini cauli is great for an individual, cutesy side veg, while two is perfect for a light supper with salad, and garlicky pitta chips to scoop the overflowing sauce.
One thing I don’t like so much about normal cauliflower cheese is that in comparison to the tasty sauce the vegetable itself can get a bit lost in its well-seasoned covering, especially if it is just boiled. It seems to be all about the cheese. To balance things up a bit, for this recipe, I made a simple brine for the cauliflower and left it for a few hours to absorb the flavours as well as soften up. This softening leads to a slightly decreased steaming time, too. Skip the brining if you like, but it really does add extra flavour to the cauliflower. We all remarked on it. Another direction would be to cut and roast the cauliflower as steaks or chunky florets, getting it lightly golden, then smothering in the sauce before popping under a hot grill to get puffed and bubbling.
Cauliflower is ridiculously nutritious, the unique taste signalling the nutritional powers within. It is low in calories and high in fibre, folate, vitamins C and K, and disease-preventing phytochemicals such as glucosinolates, quercetin and kaempferol. A serving of cauli is 80 grams, but a bit more is better. Steaming or roasting keeps most of the nutrients intact. We have cauliflower in one way or another about five times a week. Yep, a bit of a fan.
While not exactly an antidote to yesterday’s chocolate Easter eggs, this easy, cheesy dish certainly delivers on taste. Be sure to put it on your menu this week.
Golden Cauliflower Rarebit
Cauliflower covered in bubbling, boozy rarebit cheese sauce is hard to resist, especially when the cauliflower is given a boost through a simple brining. Enjoy as a side dish, light lunch or supper. Easy cheesy goodness guaranteed! xx
1 medium-large cauliflower cut into steaks or large florets OR 4 mini cauliflowers, trimmed but keeping attached, whole leaves
1 litre of warm water
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp dry English mustard
3 bay leaves, crushed lightly
1 garlic clove, crushed
The Rarebit Sauce
200g proper strong organic Cheddar cheese, grated or mix of Cheddar and other strong cheese, like Lancashire or Lincolnshire – the best you can get
1 small clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp dry English mustard
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp white pepper or black pepper
75ml dark beer/ale/stout OR medium-dry apple cider (alcoholic or not)
A few dashes Worcestershire sauce (it isn’t usually vegetarian as it contains anchovies, but vegetarian versions are available, and delicious)
1 egg yolk – optional but helps with the texture and cohesiveness
Parsley for garnish
Garlicky pitta shards for serving, optional*
1. To make the brine, stir the spices and salt into the water until the salt dissolves. Add the cauliflower to a plastic food bag and pour in the brine. Seal well and leave in a cool place for 2-8 hours.
2. For the sauce, add all of the ingredients to a blender and whiz until smooth.
3. Take the brined cauliflowers from the bag and rinse. Pop them into a steamer basket and steam for five minutes.
4. Heat the oven to 220C.
5. Line a baking tray with individual squares of parchment paper or length of parchment and add the cauliflowers. Spread over the sauce, coating on all facing sides as thickly as you can. Pop the tray into the heated oven and bake for 10 minutes, or until very golden brown in patches and the rarebit cheese sauce is bubbling. Serve with a sharp green salad, pitta chip shards and parsley. Dark beer or alcoholic cider too!
*For the garlic pitta shards, take one wholemeal pitta bread and, using scissors or a sharp knife, cut the pitta around the seam. Take a halved garlic clove and rub on the bread’s surface. Cut each pitta half into small, dipping-sized pieces (see the images) and bake on a tray for 10-12 minutes in a 180C oven. Allow to cool and crisp up before using or storing.
For a vegan option: this cheese sauce recipe from cearaskitchen looks interesting. I would replace most of the water with beer!
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