I love cheese. Always have, ever since I was a kid and my mum used to give me an apple and a slice of cheddar for my tuck box. If I had to pick one food to live on forever, it would be cheese. I used to go to stay with my granny in the school holidays and she used to give me spaghetti with grated cheese on top; quite exotic in the 70s. Spaghetti and cheese has remained my top comfort food to this day. Well, the day before I started this
diet way of eating, anyway!
One of the first things I ever taught myself to cook was a bechamel sauce, and a well made cheesy white sauce is a thing of silky, gloopy wonder. But no flour allowed on low carb, and no milk, so how on earth to make a low carb cheese sauce?
I’ve been experimenting with this for a while, and I think I’ve come up with a pretty good one. Cream is too thin on its own, even with cheese in; it doesn’t coat the cauliflower enough. Cream cheese thickens it, but not quite enough. Add some mozzarella too, though, and now we’re cooking – it’s creamy, it’s silky, it’s melty and molten. It still needs a bit of oomph, so I use a blue cheese for a bit of flavour punch, but you could use anything you like. Gruyere has a great flavour and a fantastically stretchy, mozzarella-like texture – you could even use it instead of the mozzarella.
The other issue for me is that the best bit of the cauliflower cheese was the topping – freshly made breadcrumbs mixed with melted cheddar and then grilled until brown and crisp. So how to get that crunch? Bits of bacon (pancetta would be great here), fried until crispy, mixed with grated cheddar. If you aren’t a fan of cheddar, use something else on top; red leicester is a good cheese for toppings, or parmesan/gran padana. You can sprinkle some toasted almond flakes over the top for extra crunch, too. It’s not breadcrumbs, but it works pretty well.
A medium sized cauliflower
Clove of garlic
200g chestnut mushrooms
150ml double cream
90g cream cheese, I used Paysan Breton
30g blue cheese
90g cheddar, grated
Do your prep;
Rinse the cauli, remove the leaves and cut into small florets – maybe an inch or so wide. I like them small and without much stalk attached, personally.
Slice your leeks. Crush and chop your garlic.
Dice your mushrooms.
Measure out your cheese if you need to. I’ve put quantities here but I usually do it by eye and by taste.
Melt the butter in a pan, adding a drop or two of olive oil to stop it burning. When foaming, add the garlic, stir about, then add the leeks and plenty of thyme. Toss to coat in the butter, then turn the heat right down and let them cook very gently for around 10 mins, stirring every few minutes. After 10 mins, add the mushrooms, tossing thoroughly.
While the leeks and mushrooms are cooking, you need to do two things: boil a kettle/a pan of water for the cauliflower and fry or grill your bacon. Bring the water to the boil, add the cauli and simmer for 5 mins. You could steam it if you prefer. Meanwhile either cut the bacon rashers up into small pieces with scissors and fry it in a pan, or grill it and then break it into bits when it’s cooked. Set aside for the topping
If you didn’t use the grill to do the bacon, you need to turn it on now to heat up. Choose an oven-proof dish (mine measures about 9 X 7 inches) and put it under the grill to heat up. Otherwise the mixture will go cold at the bottom while it’s grilling on the top (voice of experience)
Drain the cauliflower and add to the leek mixture. Let the cauli absorb a little of the butter/juices, then add the cream, cream cheese, mozzarella and blue cheese. Add plenty of black pepper. Heat gently, stirring frequently, until the cheese is all melted and the sauce is simmering.
Scrape the cauliflower mixture into your hot dish, sprinkle the grated cheddar and bits of bacon on top, and whack it under the grill until it’s bronzed and bubbling. I’d sprinkle the nuts on last, as they’d burn easily under the grill.