On two occasions now I have drafted posts about cauliflower cheese while working through the exercises in Will Write for Food. The first was to compose a paragraph about a passion for a certain food. The second was for a post about a dish that I didn’t like as a child, but have since come to love. Each time has involved a search for articles discussing the dish, and about cauliflower in general. But these have left me with only a saddening realisation. Cauliflower cheese seems to have become a dirty option for an increasingly trendy, fashionable vegetable. The cauliflower seems determined to leave its cheese-covered days behind. If you had asked me five years ago, I would not have cared at all about the fate of this dish. But before it gets lost to bad memories and cauliflower-fatigue, I think we need to remember why it is so great.
A dish I hated as a child
Cauliflower cheese is something that suddenly blossomed in my mind as a viable food option. It had not always been that way. I recall having it when I was younger. It was something I viewed as seemingly wasting an otherwise good cheese sauce. I would wonder what had happened to the much more pleasing and normal option of potatoes and peas alongside my sausages. My coping strategy was to scoop pieces of sausage through the sauce. I had to try and save it from the ugly, smelly cauliflower that it clung to, leaving the horrible vegetable behind.
As I got older and began cooking for myself, cauliflowers barely registered as something I would ever want to cook. They are big (and therefore annoying to carry back from the shops), they are intimidating (what on earth are you meant to do with all that… greenery?) and most importantly, they didn’t really serve any purpose in anything I wanted to cook (I had hated the idea of cauliflower cheese as a kid after all, and really, until their recent surge in popularity, what else did anyone do with them?).
A dish that now I love
I do not know, nor understand, what changed inside me. I remember the dreary autumn afternoon at work, pondering what to make for dinner. My mind was drifting from the article I was meant to be reading. Out of nowhere grew an unrelenting craving for sausages and cauliflower cheese. I wanted the smooth, tangy cheese sauce to drag my sausages through, as in my childhood. But most of all, I wanted the cauliflower swamped within it, to carry that cheesy goodness from the plate to my mouth. I bought one on the way back from work that day and so began a regular trend of adding one to my basket.
As a side dish, cauliflower cheese is as comforting as you could hope for from a British classic. It will warm you on a cold day; a big hug to ease the chill of the changing weather. It is a perfect accompaniment to roast chicken, grilled meats, or the aforementioned sausages. To me it is now something as appealing as its meaty counterpart. No longer it is an undesirable hillside of lumps polluting a perfectly good sauce.
A passion for cauliflower cheese
With a few simple tweaks, it can be turned from a sumptuous side to a magnificent main. Perhaps it is adding the cauliflower’s friendly rival, some broccoli, and adding a crunchy breadcrumb topping. Or throwing in some pasta to combine the equally loveable macaroni cheese with the cauliflower’s vegetable goodness. Maybe folding through some fried pieces of chorizo for a hit of paprika and adding some meatiness to the equation. There are numerous options, and each builds beautifully on the basic mix of cauliflower and cheese sauce.
So why then, I thought as reading around on the topic, are there so many articles seemingly playing down the wonders of this dish? The cauliflower is cool again, it’s trendy, they say, and here are ten things you can do with it to banish the thought of cauliflower cheese. (This is not an exact quote from anywhere, more a summary of the general impression I received). Why banish the thought? It is a GREAT thought. One that has been excitedly playing around my head for the duration of this article, making me want it right now.
It seems that for some, cauliflower cheese recalls bad memories of school dinners. Sure, this is probably enough to make you shudder at the thought of something. But can anyone really compare an old school dinner memory with the proper thing, where the cauliflower hasn’t been boiled into oblivion or subjected to suffocation by a cheese sauce that has begun to congeal as it is left out in an unappealing serving dish?
Go on and enjoy it
By all means, buy cauliflowers a plenty, make them into a range of dishes both new and old. But let’s not downplay the magnificence of its most famous dish, the underrated, unforgotten and unbelievably delicious cauliflower cheese. Let’s not think of it as the dirty, disgusting option from the past, or one that needs to be forgotten. Celebrate it. Enjoy it. Be comforted by it.