Remember that song from Monty Python about "wonderful Spam, marvelous Spam?" Well whenever it pops into this cheese-head's head, the words are automatically converted to "Cheese, cheese, cheese, cheese, wonderful cheese, marvelous cheese!" Like so many, I am a bona fide cheese devotee. If I could get away with eating it three times a day, I would do it. As it is, I try to keep it down to a few times a week, and always try to stick to the best quality, most delicious cheese I can find.
As heady as cheese is in its "natural" state, it's arguably even more decadent in a smooth, silky sauce, as in the Cheddar Cheese Bechamel Sauce and Roasted Cauliflower recipe I created and tested last week for a book about French sauces that I am working on for Gibbs Smith.
Virtually a fondue, this makes an exquisite dipping sauce for bread cubes, fat pretzels, and raw vegetables. I loved it so much, I found myself eating it by the spoonful, as if it was a soup. And indeed, by adding a bit more cream or milk, it could become just that. In this recipe, I use it as a sauce to cover sweet roasted cauliflower florets. It would also be sublime on broccoli, a juicy steak, or roasted potatoes. It can be prepared ahead of time and gently re-heated at the last minute, so it's excellent for entertaining. You can also incorporate it into your back-to-school food repetoire—kids will love this ooey, gooey cheese treat after school or anytime, day or night.
Cheese Sauce Bechamel with Roasted Cauliflower
(Serves 4 to 6)
For the bechamel base:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup skim milk
3/4 cup Half & Half
2 cups lightly packed best-quality grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons best quality white wine (suggest Chardonnay)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the cauliflower:
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets (see directions below), about 3 cups
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish (optional): 2 tablespoons fresh, finely chopped parsley leaves
Preheat oven to 450°F. First, prepare the bechamel base. In a large sauce pan, melt the 2 tablespoons of butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in the shallots, and cook until softened, whisking, for about 2 minutes. Whisk in the 2 tablespoons flour, and continue cooking until bubbling and cooked through, about 2 minutes, whisking all the while. Pour in the milk and Half & Half in a steady stream, whisking the entire time. Bring up to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Continue cooking gently, whisking, until the sauce starts to thicken and set up. This will take 10 minutes. To finish the sauce, whisk the grated cheese into the warm sauce in 2 or 3 handfuls, until melted and smooth. Whisk in the butter until melted and incorporated. Whisk in the wine. Taste and season according to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve warm over low heat.
Meanwhile, rinse the cauliflower head thoroughly. Cut the base from the cauliflower head, pulling off any external leaves. Cut into quarters. Cut away the solid, tough core from each quarter and break off the florets into about 2-inch chunks. Toss in a roasting pan with the olive oil and a generous dash of salt and black pepper. Roast in the pre-heated oven, stirring 2 or 3 times, for about 25 minutes, or until tender and very lightly browned.
Serve the cauliflower on individual plates or a platter with a generous portion of sauce. Garnish with fresh parsley if desired.