“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”

Mark Twain, from Pudd’head Wilson

Elsewhere on this site I have discussed the flagrant abuse suffered by our compact and creamy white cauliflower at the hands of dinner ladies, hospital chefs, nursery cooks and opinionated aunts of an indeterminate age.

As to whether any of them have eaten their own cooking is moot. Suffice to say that some of those who have issued lacklustre cauliflower cheese, under the guise of healthy eating, have contributed to the culinary distress of endless young diners. Sadly, many generations of children who, having developed an unambiguous loathing of school dinners, almost consigned the future of fine British vegetable cooking to the bin. A receptacle by the way, where much of the slop formerly recognized as vegetables, usually ended up.

Amazingly, some politicians still look bemused when asked why vegetables are so rare in modern adolescent diets. Perhaps, late for net practice or the tuck shop queue, they wolfed down these denatured meals the rest of us wisely refused.

All in stark contrast to one of the most expensive and revered brassicas of the Victorian era, where it provided a keenly anticipated addition to the table, rather than today’s run-of-the-mill torment.

But all is not lost. When made from fresh ingredients, prepared with care and a fondness for fine cuisine, cauliflower cheese can provide something very special indeed. So, once again we turn to a classically trained chef with the soul of a home cook – Simon Hopkinson. His raison d’être neatly summed up in his own words – “I just wish sometimes that we could be more aware of what is good when it is good, rather than eating things or buying ingredients purely out of habit and ignorance.” Cauliflower, conveniently having an almost endless season, fits the observation well.

Cauliflower Cheese from The Prawn Cocktail Years (1997) Simon Hopkinson and Lindsey Bareham

600ml milk

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

1 bay leaf

2 cloves


50g butter

50g flour

Freshly grated nutmeg

100g Lancashire cheese, grated

1 medium-large headed cauliflower, leaves trimmed and core removed

Salt and white pepper

For a crusted version, ingredients as above, plus a knob of butter and 50g grated Lancashire cheese mixed with 25g fresh breadcrumbs

First make the sauce by placing the milk, onion, bay leaf, cloves and a pinch of salt in a saucepan

Simmer gently for a few minutes then turn off the heat, cover the pan and leave it to infuse for 15 minutes

Meanwhile melt the butter and stir in the flour, mixing to make a roux.

Cook very gently for a couple of minutes to let the flour cook but without allowing the roux to colour

Strain the infused milk into the roux, and bring the sauce to a simmer, whisking vigorously

Leave it to cook over a very low heat, stirring every now and again, for about 15 minutes

Season generously with nutmeg, stir in the grated cheese and cook for a few more minutes until the cheese has melted and the sauce is thick and creamy

Cover the pan and keep warm

Meanwhile fill a saucepan that can hold the cauliflower snugly with 7.5 cm water

Bring the water to the boil add salt and lower the trimmed cauliflower into the water

Put on the lid and boil hard for about 20 minutes, check with a skewer after 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is tender

Remove to a colander and drain very thoroughly

To serve, place the cauliflower on a hot serving dish and pour over the hot cheese sauce

Wine thoughts

The term Vin de Pays and Languedoc-Rousillon are synonymous with good value wines with recognisable, now almost universal, grape varieties. The French often get rather sniffy about anything less than their first division Appellation Contrôlée wine category, but the growing range of well-made wines from a younger generation of wine-makers can offer New  World styles with a distinctly French accent. The region of Languedoc offers its own particular Vin de Pays d’Oc varietals, principally Merlot and Chardonnay, which are both well suited to the warm, sea driven Mediterranean climate. A lively, un-oaked, Chardonnay Vin de Pays d’Oc would make a suitably rounded and budget-friendly partner to our dish.