That much-maligned nursery concoction of overcooked smelly vegetable in a floury and lumpen sauce has caused tears before bedtime in too many childhoods. It can, however, make a sensational and elegant dish for grownups when treated sympathetically. While a whole cauliflower presents well at the table, it is really more sensible to use florets.
Blanch the cauliflower florets as above. Drain and refresh in ice-cold water, drain again and reserve. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas 6.
Make the cheese sauce starting with a roux made by melting the butter over a low heat and stirring in the flour. Cook briefly, stirring. Beat in the milk and sherry and cook over a low heat, stirring from time to time, for 20 minutes. Add the grated Cheddar and Parmesan, the mustard and nutmeg to taste, and stir until amalgamated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Put the cauliflower florets into a gratin dish and pour over the sauce. Scatter the fresh breadcrumbs on top, dot with butter and bake for 20 minutes for a memorable cauliflower au gratin.
© 1998 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.