Clocks have gone back, evenings are dark and it's time to turbo-load on starchy carbohydrates and cheese. At least, that was the opinion of the Dine at Mine household on Sunday. With the excitement of Strictly results and Downton Abbey ahead of us (pauses for a moment's silence in honour of dear departed Spooks), we wanted a dinner that would be comforting, warming and cosy. The culinary equivalent of slippers warmed by the fire. Which is something I did actually do on Sunday evening, by the way. What can I say? Downton Abbey seems to bring out the traditionalist in me.
This Cauliflower Macaroni Cheese, on the other hand, is exceedingly untraditional. Firstly, it's a newfangled hybrid of two different cheese traditions, blending cauliflower and macaroni in a most unorthodox manner. Secondly, it is infused with garlic! Strongly redolent of garlic with every bite. I do not deny that it tasted good - indeed, it was delicious - but it was not what one would expect from a baked cheese gratin.
Thirdly, that young rapscallion Jamie Oliver dares to suggest that one should omit the standard bechamel cheese sauce in favour of cooking water, creme fraiche and copious quantities of grated cheddar. That flies in the face of tradition and you know what the Dowager Duchess would say about that. Incidentally, she seems to have infected my vocabulary over the last couple of paragraphs. I'll try to exorcise her now.
To be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about this last innovation. As in his fish pie, chicken pie and spring vegetable lasagne, this seems to be part of Jamie Oliver's campaign to rid the world of white sauce in every permutation. And while I agree that this is easier and quicker..I just don't think it's as nice as a proper cheese sauce. The cheesy ham and leek gratin is just so much more oozy and rich, and this turned out a little dry. I should point out that my husband loved this, so I think it's just me who has a quibble. And perhaps we should have just added more of the water. But still, I'm not sure it would ever live up to a cheese sauce. Sorry Jamie, but that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it.
But in all other respects, this was perfect. I should give an honourable mention to the bacony breadcrumbs on top, which were ridiculously delicious. Next time, I'll make a proper cheese sauce and use double the amount of cauliflower - ours was a midget so it was totally outgunned by the pasta. But there will definitely be a next time. Downton hasn't finished yet, you know! There are all sorts of historical events just waiting to be awkwardly shoehorned into dialogue between Carson's eyebrows and Lady Mary's evening gloves, and I cannot wait. Did you know there's been a war on, m'lady? I do hope that ghastly Spanish flu isn't going to kill off any transparent plot devices any time soon.
Cauliflower Macaroni Cheese
Adapted from Jamie Oliver's 30 Minute Meals
- 4 rashers of bacon or pancetta
- 200g macaroni
- 1 cauliflower, outer leaves removed, quartered
- 100g cheddar cheese, grated
- 100ml creme fraiche
- a couple of slices of bread
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- a sprig of fresh rosemary (or we used a mix of dried rosemary and fresh thyme)
- a clove of garlic, crushed
Preheat the oven as high as it will go and get out a dish big enough to cook the whole thing in later.
Lay the slices of bacon in the dish and put it in the oven to cook through and get crisp.
Boil the pasta and cauliflower together in a big pot for about 8 minutes, or however long the packet of pasta says. When it's done, drain it but save the water it's been cooking in.
By now the bacon should be good and crisp so take it out and whizz it up in a food processor with the bread, rosemary, some pepper and a good swig of olive oil.
Chuck the pasta and cauliflower into the big dish, breaking up the cauliflower into smaller bits if necessary, then add the creme fraiche, garlic, cheddar and a few sloops of the cooking water. Stir it all into a smooth, creamy sauce, adding more of the cooking water as necessary. When it's the right sort of consistency, scatter the breadcrumbs on top and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until browned and bubbling.