’Tis (nearly) the season


FESTIVE COMFORT Cauliflower cheese is a deliciously warming treat on a winter’s day.

The Cabots

It was a miserable grey day. Lunchtime was approaching and I was starving but stuck for time. And I realised I needed to eat something Christmassy. Ever get a craving like that?
Last Christmas, we got a welcome present of a Stilton blue cheese in a ceramic jar. What’s not to love about that? “Stinkton!” shrieked my children, sniffing it and wrinkling their teasing little noses. “Ugh!”
All the more for the parents. Stinkton went down a treat and didn’t last long. Blue cheese, I decided, was what was needed to save the day.
Luckily, I was close to Savoir Fare, the restaurant/deli on Bridge Street, Westport, owned by chef Alain Morice. I looked longingly at the lunch menu but knew I had to be somewhere else in 15 minutes.
Takeaway was necessary. I wandered in and looked at the bountiful cheese counter. All of Alain’s produce is Irish and exceptionally good. There were several Irish blue-veined cheeses on offer, but I looked at Young Buck from County Down and knew it was the one.
Back home, I spread it thickly on one of Alain’s rustic sourdough baguettes. The cheese was crumbly, creamy, lightly sharp; the bread as good as you’d get in France. The misery of the day was banished!

Smashing mash and veg
It’s high season for root vegetables – comforting and full of vitamins. Scrounging around the kitchen last weekend, I found a few small, sweet purple and white swedes grown by Red’s cousin Eoin.
Swedes and turnips are very under-appreciated vegetables – there’s something deliciously umami about them. I boiled then simmered them together with carrots and potatoes before mashing the lot with lashings of butter, a large crumble of sea salt and a pinch of white pepper. Really delicious.
My grandmother Maggie was a great fan of white pepper with swedes. I think in her day black pepper wasn’t a thing. Maggie’s Christmas stuffing was unsurpassable. White bread crumbs, gently sautéed onions, melted butter, a pinch of salt, dried sage – and a pinch of white pepper.
With Christmas veggies in mind, I made a cauliflower cheese to go with the mash. There are so many possible cheese-sauce versions. On this occasion, I made a white sauce with shallots and extra-mature cheddar cheese.
It really hit the spot, and I wondered why I don’t make this more often. It takes a bit of time but is easy enough to do. For a Christmas menu, I’d recommend this blue cheese and leek version.

Christmassy cauliflower cheese

What you need

  • 1 medium-large cauliflower
  • 2 leeks
  • Glug of olive oil
  • Knob of butter

For the sauce

  • 40g butter
  • 40g sieved plain flour
  • 500ml full fat milk
  • 100g grated extra-mature cheddar cheese
  • 50g strong blue cheese
  • 25g breadcrumbs (optional)
  • Grated nutmeg (optional)
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil

What you do
Lightly grease a large ovenproof dish with olive oil. Chop the leeks into thin rounds and thoroughly wash them, then sweat them in butter and olive oil, adding a large pinch of sea salt, in a heavy-bottomed pan till tender – about ten minutes.
Cut the cauliflower into equal-sized florets. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the florets and cook for about five minutes till al dente.
Drain. Place in the ovenproof dish and gently mix with the softened leeks. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
For the sauce: Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add the sieved flour, stirring all the time to avoid lumps. Continue for about one minute, then gradually add the milk, whisking all the time to keep the mixture smooth.
Cook over a low heat for about four minutes, then add the cheddar cheese and if you’re a nutmeg fan, add a good grate of this festive spice.
Once it starts to thicken add the blue cheese.
Keep stirring till the blue cheese is roughly melted. Season with salt and pepper, then pour the sauce over the cauliflower/leek mix.
Sprinkle the breadcrumbs (optional) over the top, place in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes (depending on your oven) until golden.

— Sandra

The Cabot family live and work in Lanmore, outside Westport. Fresh, seasonal foods are their passion, from country markets to growing, making and selling. They love cooking and eating at the kitchen table, while Redmond and Sandra are kept on their toes with children Penny and Louis. Here they share their favourite recipes.