JUMP TO RECIPE -
Interesting thing about comfort foods is that they usually tend to be quite bland. I guess when it's cold outside or you're feeling a bit down you don't fancy stimulating your senses too much. To the contrary - you want to dull them, warm them, lull them and put them to sleep.
Soups work well, never too spicy. Stews and casseroles, sauces you can mop up with soft bread and of course anything smothered in cheese and cream.
One of the best comfort foods I can think of is tartiflette: potato, onions and bacon dish baked with a whole (yes, whole, but it's the size of Camembert) Reblochon cheese. All the comfort factors there: cheese, sauce, potatoes, bland. And a bit of bacon which never ever resonates badly.
Cauliflower cheese must be second best. Do it heavy or light as you like and have either as a side for a meat dish or a full-on cheesy creamy feast.
This recipe is a halfway house. Spicing it aspires to some level of sophistication, the cream is diluted with milk and I'm not doing béchamel seeing as cream will thicken up by itself with no addition of flour necessary. But then of course a great big whack of grated cheese is added and baked to a satisfying, bubbly goldenness. So there - a dish ready to drown sorrow or a chill in.
- 1 whole head of cauliflower divided into small florets
- 200ml double cream
- 100ml full fat milk
- 2 cloves of garlic, pressed
- a pinch of grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp roughly ground coriander seeds
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- a pinch of ground sumac (optional, any other spice you fancy with cauliflower will be good)
- 1 tsp mustard powder
- salt and pepper
- 100g Gruyere or Cheddar cheese, coarsely grated
- 2 tbsp flaked almonds
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
Wash the cauliflower, cut the larger florets in half – they need to be quite small as they won’t be pre-cooked. In a small pan bring the cream and milk to the boil. Add the chopped garlic, the nutmeg, coriander, sumac, mustard powder and thyme and simmer for a few minutes.
Add two thirds of the grated cheese, stir in well and leave to cool down a bit.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas 4. Butter a gratin dish and arrange the cauliflower florets in it. Pour over the cheese sauce and bake for 40 minutes. Sprinkle over the remaining cheese mixed with breadcrumbs and almonds and bake for further 10 – 15 minutes until golden and bubbling.