Cavolfiore al forno: Italian cauliflower cheese

When I was living in London, over 20 years ago now, every eatery I went to (unless it was some sort of hippy/alternative/macrobiotic/ethnic restaurant) would have two hot veggie choices: vegetarian lasagne and cauliflower cheese. I am not joking: that was it! The vegetarian lasagne was usually frozen stuff, and it seems that most pubs and cafes ordered it from the same company (i.e. it always tasted the same!). The cauliflower cheese was either boiled cauliflower with cheddar melted on top, or baked cauliflower with a white sauce... and the consistency of porridge. Meat eaters pitied me and wondered why on earth I would choose to be a vegetarian. Things are different now, and there is more choice, but I am sure that lots of vegetarians still have nightmares about that bland 'cauliflower porridge'.

Anyway, here is a version that is not too cheesy (but you can add more cheese on top if you like), and tastes good. 

Cavolfiore al forno

1 large cauliflower, plus plenty of water and a pinch of salt
100 g salted butter
100 g plain flour
1 l milk
white pepper
salt to taste
100 g freshly grated parmesan cheese (or the cheese you like)

I usually remove the leaves form the cauliflower, then I wash it and boil it whole in a large pot with plenty of water and a pinch of salt. This way I make sure that it is not overcooked and mushy. Then I divide it into florets. 

For the sauce (Besciamella) melt 100 g of salted butter in a saucepan, then add 100 g of plain flour and stir. Add 1 l of milk slowly, stirring constantly without making lumps, then simmer until the sauce thickens. At the end add freshly grated nutmeg, white pepper, and salt to taste. Spread a little sauce in the bottom of a oven dish, then arrange the cauliflower florets on top. Cover with the rest of the sauce, banging the dish so that there are no air bubbles. Sprinkle with 100 g of freshly grated parmesan cheese and place in the hot oven for about 40 minutes, or until the top is golden. Serve hot. Easy!

Photos and recipes by Alessandra Zecchini ©


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