Under ordinary circumstances, broccoli and cauliflower retail at about P 45.00 – 60.00 a head. Then, as I was heading home from running errands a few days ago, the vegetable vendors plying their trade around the Alabang Viaduct and the Public Market gave me a serious jolt by selling humongous heads of both cauliflower and broccoli at a measly P 10.00 (Us$ 0.24 / UK£ 0.15) apiece! Needless to say that I went and snagged a head of each and rushed home to prepare these treasured veggies for dinner.
This particular recipe is a spin on one done by UK celeb-chef Lorraine Pascale and was featured in the January 2012 issue of BBC Good Food. It is, basically, a variation on classic cauliflower cheese but is given, so to speak, some spring to its step through the addition of mustard, chives, and a generous portion of strongly-flavored cheese. Indeed, the recipe appeared under the name Gruyere and mustard cauliflower cheese.
Because I didn’t use just cauliflower in this dish, I can’t really refer to it as a “cauliflower cheese.” Instead, given how it involves two members of the cabbage (Lat.: brassica) family and the sauce blanketing it is, essentially, a bechamel, I just called it like I saw it: Brassicas en Bechamel.
It makes for a rather spiffy side dish that goes beautifully well with a roasted chicken. (Homemade or store-bought, it works nicely either way.) It is deliciously cheesy yet you can still taste the real flavors of the vegetable and the crisp topping of cheesed-up breadcrumbs is particularly appealing. The fact that the vegetables are roasted prior to being swathed by sauce keeps them crisp-tender and flavorful – something you can’t achieve by boiling those veggies to death.
This dish can also double as a vegetarian main course if you’re feeding a veg-crazy crowd. I can also see it as a viable alternative to most Christmas side dishes; I am of the opinion this would be magnificent served alongside either turkey or baked ham.
Incidentally, to amp up the nutty flavor of the vegetables, I suggest you use a hard-core, strong-tasting, particularly pungent cheese. Stilton and Roquefort work, and so do strong cheddar and the local kesong puti (a fresh, white, carabao’s milk cheese with a particularly sharp flavor with a smooth finish on the palate). And, because it’s quezo de bola (those round, red-wax-coated balls of aged Edam or Gouda) season, I see no reason why it shouldn’t be the cheese of choice for this dish.
Brassicas en Bechamel
- 1 large head cauliflower, broken into florets
- 1 large head broccoli, broken into florets,
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 30 grams butter
- 30 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon Dijon or American-style prepared mustard
- 300mL milk
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 60 grams strong-flavored cheese, coarsely chunked
- 2 tablespoons panko or plain breadcrumbs
- generous dash of black pepper
- 30 grams grated Parmesan or Edam
In a medium-sized baking dish, toss the florets with the olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil. Heat oven to 450 degrees / Gas Mark 7 and place the prepared baking dish in immediately; the vegetables will roast as the oven heats up.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook for about a minute, stirring from time to time. Add the mustard. Turn the heat down very low and slowly pour in the milk, whisking vigorously to prevent lumps from forming. Keep whisking until the mixture has thickened. Turn the heat back up to medium and bring to a boil whilst still stirring. Allow to cook for a minute, then remove from the heat. Add the strong-flavored cheese and the chopped onion; mix well. Season with the black pepper.
Take the roasted veg out of the oven and remove the foil. Pour over the sauce and mix well to ensure that the vegetables are evenly coated. Combine the panko and the grated Parmesan; sprinkle the mixture over the vegetables. Bake for an additional 20 – 25 minutes or till the sauce is bubbling and the topping is a golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 2 – 3 minutes before serving.
Serves 6 as a side dish; 4 as a vegetarian main.