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Recipe: Cauliflower Cheese, a beloved comfort dish, is the British version of our mac and cheese

Cauliflower CheeseSally Pasley Vargas

Serves 4

Known simply as Cauliflower Cheese in the UK, where it is beloved comfort food (sometimes called "nursery food"), this casserole in a cheesy sauce is just what you need to ride out a rainy, dreary day. Think of it as the British version of our mac and cheese, except that instead of pasta, you use cauliflower. Instructions often call for boiling cauliflower. Instead, roast the florets just until they turn golden, which draws out their sweetness. Make a bechamel sauce and stir in sharp cheddar. If you can get your hands on English Lancashire cheese, or another sharp, buttery, cow's milk cheese, you'll elevate the dish to the sublime: rich and crunchy from a topping of buttered breadcrumbs. The adults at the table will be delighted, as will the folks in the nursery.

CRUMBS

tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
¾cup panko or other dry white breadcrumbs

1. In a small microwave-safe bowl, place the butter pieces. Cover loosely with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Heat at 15 second intervals until the butter melts.

2. Stir in the panko or breadcrumbs, tossing until it is coated all over with butter.

CAULIFLOWER

Butter (for the dish)
1large head cauliflower (about 2 1/4 pounds), cored and cut into florets
2tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
3cups whole milk
½ small onion
1 bay leaf
3tablespoons unsalted butter
5tablespoons flour
4ounces cheddar, Lancashire, or other sharp, buttery, English cow’s milk cheese

1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Butter an 8-or-9-inch square baking dish. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. On the baking sheet, mound the cauliflower florets in the center. Sprinkle with the oil, salt, and pepper. Massage the oil into the florets and spread them in an even layer on the baking sheet. Bake them for 20 minutes, or until they are barely tender and golden in spots. Transfer them to the baking dish.

3. Turn the oven temperature down to 400 degrees.

4. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, onion, and bay leaf until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat. Set aside for 15 minutes to infuse the milk with the seasonings. Remove and discard the onion and bay leaf.

5. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk the flour and stir constantly for 1 minute, or until small bubbles appear on the surface. Continue whisking for 2 minutes more. The mixture should look pale blond in color but do not let it brown.

6. One ladle at a time, whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth. Lower the heat to low. Let the sauce simmer for 4 minutes, stirring often with a silicone spatula, until it thickens and there's no raw flour taste.

7. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, if you like. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower in the baking dish. Sprinkle with the crumbs.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling at the edges.

Sally Pasley Vargas

Serves 4

Known simply as Cauliflower Cheese in the UK, where it is beloved comfort food (sometimes called "nursery food"), this casserole in a cheesy sauce is just what you need to ride out a rainy, dreary day. Think of it as the British version of our mac and cheese, except that instead of pasta, you use cauliflower. Instructions often call for boiling cauliflower. Instead, roast the florets just until they turn golden, which draws out their sweetness. Make a bechamel sauce and stir in sharp cheddar. If you can get your hands on English Lancashire cheese, or another sharp, buttery, cow's milk cheese, you'll elevate the dish to the sublime: rich and crunchy from a topping of buttered breadcrumbs. The adults at the table will be delighted, as will the folks in the nursery.

CRUMBS

tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
¾cup panko or other dry white breadcrumbs

1. In a small microwave-safe bowl, place the butter pieces. Cover loosely with waxed paper or plastic wrap. Heat at 15 second intervals until the butter melts.

2. Stir in the panko or breadcrumbs, tossing until it is coated all over with butter.

CAULIFLOWER

Butter (for the dish)
1large head cauliflower (about 2 1/4 pounds), cored and cut into florets
2tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
3cups whole milk
½ small onion
1 bay leaf
3tablespoons unsalted butter
5tablespoons flour
4ounces cheddar, Lancashire, or other sharp, buttery, English cow’s milk cheese

1. Set the oven at 450 degrees. Butter an 8-or-9-inch square baking dish. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. On the baking sheet, mound the cauliflower florets in the center. Sprinkle with the oil, salt, and pepper. Massage the oil into the florets and spread them in an even layer on the baking sheet. Bake them for 20 minutes, or until they are barely tender and golden in spots. Transfer them to the baking dish.

3. Turn the oven temperature down to 400 degrees.

4. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, onion, and bay leaf until small bubbles form around the edges of the pan. Remove the pan from the heat. Set aside for 15 minutes to infuse the milk with the seasonings. Remove and discard the onion and bay leaf.

5. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk the flour and stir constantly for 1 minute, or until small bubbles appear on the surface. Continue whisking for 2 minutes more. The mixture should look pale blond in color but do not let it brown.

6. One ladle at a time, whisk in the milk until the sauce is smooth. Lower the heat to low. Let the sauce simmer for 4 minutes, stirring often with a silicone spatula, until it thickens and there's no raw flour taste.

7. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese until it melts. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, if you like. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower in the baking dish. Sprinkle with the crumbs.

8. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling at the edges.Sally Pasley Vargas