I remember as a child reading a series of Bunnicula books. It was a story about a vampire bunny (Bunnicula) that would suck all the juice out of vegetables, rendering them spookily white. Cauliflower was never my favourite as a child and while I have come around, even now it makes me think of vampire bunnies. Maybe if I knew cauliflower could be green, orange, yellow or violet, I would have felt differently.
Children shudder at the sight of cauliflower on their plate but I have yet to meet a child that did not adore cauliflower cheese. In Piemonte, it is made with arguably Piemonte‘s greatest cheese: Castelmagno. Castelmagno is a protected cheese which is mainly produced as a white cheese but can also be blue. It has been made since the 13th century in the village of Castelmagno using cow’s milk with some ewe’s and goat’s milk added and is then aged for 4 months in caves.
In England cauliflower cheese is made with Cheddar and Lancashire cheeses which are also incredibly tasty substitutes if you cannot find Castelmagno (it has a rather limited production in comparison). The creamy cheese complements the soft, steamed cauliflower. At posh restaurants in Piemonte I have also had savoury custard versions of this dish.
If your store’s vegetable aisle is looking a bit bleak this time of year, fear not, with cauliflower cheese you cannot go wrong.
Cavolfiore al Castelmagno (cauliflower cheese) – Piemonte
Steaming vegetables retains the vitamins and minerals better than boiling. The flavour is also less diluted and the texture firmer. For illustrated step-by-step instructions, click here.
1 medium cauliflower, leaves removed and rinsed
145 ml double cream
100 grams Castelmagno cheese, grated or small dice
60 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
20 grams butter
Steam the cauliflower heads for 8 to 10 minutes until a fork can easily pierce the stem (if placed into a cold steamer then this will take 15-20 minutes including the time to create the steam).
Meanwhile, in the last 10 minutes, put the cheeses, butter and cream into a sauce pan and heat over medium heat until the cheeses have melted and stir to combine. Do not let this mixture boil. Remove from the heat.
Place the cauliflower in a shallow bowl and pour the cheese over top. Serve immediately.