Cauliflower cheese bake
Cauliflower cheese is a Sunday lunch classic but can also easily be a fantastic vegetarian centerpiece for weeknight dinners or family feasts. This cauliflower cheese bake is guaranteed to impress.
Here’s a little something you didn’t know about me: I am obsessed with Sunday lunch. Like, can’t stop thinking about it, want it every-single-day kind of obsessed. I think it’s because Sunday lunch was such a huge thing in our family when I was younger. My gran was the ultimate cook. She used to run her own catering business as well as a small hotel in the coastal town of Margate so she knew her stuff.
Sunday’s saw us going over to her house after church for a proper Sunday roast. We were met with a warm smile, an even warmer hug and the delectable scent of meat roasting, vegetables cooking and gravy simmering. As lunch time crept closer, my beloved Ouma would bring out dish after dish of the most delicious food. There would often be more than one type of roast meat, a chicken pie, perfectly roast potatoes, steamed rice, gravy and a plethora of vegetable dishes. “Soet patats” (sweet potato cooked then mashed with sugar and butter), carrots, green beans cooked with potato and onion until soft and savoury and cauliflower or broccoli in cheese sauce.
This was followed by another table filled with desserts. The thing with these lunches was that yes, the food was amazing and I would give anything to be able to have her cook me a meal like that again, but the thing that stayed with me the most was that we were together as a family. Aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. We would all sit together and eat and laugh and build memories. That is why I am so obsessed with Sunday Lunch.
But of course, the food is absolutely essential. There would be none of that bonding if we didn’t all have a healthy plate of food in front of us. As a child, I would have a bit of everything except for the baked cauliflower with cheese. I didn’t like the look and smell of it and my mother told me that if I dished something, I had to eat it so I didn’t even look at the casserole dish topped with melted cheese.
Now, many years later, cauliflower cheese (along with crispy roasted potatoes and gravy) is my favourite part of Sunday Lunch. This cauliflower cheese recipe is made in much the same way my gran used to make hers. The cauliflower is cut into florets and then mixed with a very-cheesy cheese sauce flavoured with nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne pepper and lots of white pepper before being baked under a blanket of grated cheese.
It also makes a great low carb cauliflower mac and cheese substitute and honestly, is often even better than actual mac and cheese. Absolutely mouth-watering!
How do you make cauliflower cheese?
Cauliflower cheese is simply cauliflower (steamed/roasted/blanched) covered with cheese sauce baked in a casserole dish. The cheese sauce is made by adding cheese and spices to a simple Béchamel sauce. Roasting the cauliflower before baking with the cheese sauce to enhance the flavor of the finished casserole but you can steam or blanche until just tender as well. If you choose to use raw cauliflower, you will just need to adjust the baking time and cover the casserole dish with foil to allow the cauliflower to cook through without browning the top too much.
What cheese is best for cauliflower cheese?
You want a strong, flavorful cheese for cauliflower cheese. Mature cheddar, Gruyère and Parmesan/Pecorino all add fantastic flavor to the cheese sauce. To top the cauliflower cheese, mozzarella, cheddar and Parmesan are all good options.
How do you make cheese sauce for cauliflower cheese?
Make a simple roux from butter and flour then whisk in milk over low heat until the sauce is smooth. Allow to simmer until thick and add grated cheese and spices. The video below shows how to make cheese sauce step-by-step.
for the cheese sauce
- 125 g/1 stick butter
- 3/4 cup flour
- 4 cups milk heated with 1 bay leaf and 2 peppercorns
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 cup grated mature cheddar
- salt to taste
for the cauliflower cheese
- 2 large heads cauliflower cut into florets
- 1 cup grated mature cheddar
- Pre-heat the oven to 160°c.
- To make the sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan then whisk in the flour until you have a thick paste/roux.
- Slowly whisk in the warmed milk until you are left with a smooth, silky sauce.
- Lower the heat and allow to simmer whilst stirring until the sauce is thick and the flour is cooked.
- Add the nutmeg, cayenne, pepper and salt then remove from the heat and stir in the cheese.
- Place the cauliflower in an oven-proof casserole dish then pour over the cheese sauce.
- Cover with a sheet of greased foil then place in the oven and allow to bake for 30-45 minutes until the cauliflower is cooked to your preference.
- Remove the foil then top with the remaining cheese and bake for another 15-20 minutes until the cheese has melted.
- Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.