I am a big fan of the novels of Barbara Pym. Pym wrote about everyday life in the mid-twentieth century English country village, with occasional forays into more cosmopolitan realms. Her focus was always on women's lives. The tone of her works is slightly ironic, subtly comedic, and at times tragic. Relationships between men and women played a large part in her stories, whose lives often revolved around local church functions, or sometimes more academic pursuits. I prefer books and movies that are character-driven rather than plot-driven, and Barbara Pym's novels fall into that category quite nicely.
This introduction to Barbara Pym leads in a roundabout way to today's recipe. In her debut novel, Some Tame Gazelle, I first encountered a dish called "cauliflower cheese". It is similar to macaroni and cheese, but cauliflower florets are substituted for the pasta. The Barbara Pym Cookbook, compiled by Pym's sister Hillary and cookbook author Honor Wyatt, includes a recipe for Pain de Chou-Fleur as an example of cauliflower cheese. Their recipe uses eggs and puréed cauliflower and is more like a steamed pudding, but I prefer a recipe I found recently for Cheesy Cauliflower Casserole. I modified the original only slightly (microwaveable cauliflower florets instead of cutting up a whole head, and Parmesan cheese added as a topping), but in my opinion the basic recipe is perfect in its simplicity. I liked this dish so much I may never make the pasta version again!
Oh, and if you ever get the chance to read Some Tame Gazelle, take note of the rather quirky and funny passage involving the cauliflower cheese, as it is an ideal encapsulation of the tone of Barbara Pym's works!
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 C. milk
1 C. shredded cheddar cheese (or other good melting cheese)
2 packages (10 oz. each) microwaveable cauliflower florets, cooked*
1/2 C. grated Parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until well mixed, and cook for about one minute. Slowly whisk in the milk and simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened. Remove from the heat and add the cheddar cheese, stirring until smooth.
Spread the cooked cauliflower in a greased 7x11-inch (or equivalent) casserole dish and cut any very large pieces in half. Pour the cheese sauce on top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly over the top, turn the dish, and bake 15 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving. Serves 4.
*Or use one large head of cauliflower, cut into florets. Steam the florets until tender (about 10 minutes).