Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Dishes of Comfort

Ivonne from Cream Puffs in Venice and Orchidea from Viaggi & Sapori are co-hosting a one-off event in which we celebrate those dishes that have special meanings to us - dishes of comfort.

There are so many dishes that could apply - everything I can cook today was born from the knowledge gained at my mothers side. I am so fortunate to have had such a great schooling and it started at a very young age with the simple task of shelling peas. As I grew older the tasks changed, from peeling to slicing to actually cooking. From learning to know when something is cooked or that it needs more time - I'm still being tutored.

The best bit about feeling a bit under the weather when I was younger was getting those extra special treats - I adored the perfect soft boiled egg with toast soldiers made from crusty pasta dura, each mouthful bound to make me feel better. For birthdays or celebrations, there were Ravioli and Cappelletti, all hand made and without peer. For something sweet, zabaglione, crostoli, zuppa inglese, panettone, just to name a few.

Food is a celebration of life and love so in many ways, every dish is a dish of comfort. So, for this event, I'll be making a dish I learnt from my mother and still make today - Cavolfiore alla Besciamella or Cauliflower with Béchamel.

I think I've lost count on how many times I've made béchamel - it's usually all done by eye but for this post I've brought out the scales to get a measurement.


Cavolfiore alla Besciamella/Cauliflower with Béchamel

1 cauliflower, cut into medium sized florets

Béchamel Sauce:
50 grams butter, diced
50 grams cornflour
750 mls/3 cups milk
25 grams grated Parmesan
25 grams grated Tasty Cheese (you can use Swiss, cheddar, mozzarella, gruyere)
freshly ground white pepper
freshly ground salt

grated parmesan, extra
grated tasty cheese, extra

Prepare the Cauliflower:

The cauliflower pieces need to be either steamed or boiled until they are just undercooked - it's important that there's still a bite left in them as they will finish cooking in the oven.

To add a bit more flavour my mother would then sauté the cauliflower pieces in a little butter until they just start to colour.

Make the Béchamel:

In a saucepan, add the diced butter and melt over a medium heat. When just melted add the cornflower and stir, using a whisk until a smooth paste forms.

Let the paste cook for less than 30 seconds - make sure it doesn't get any colour. Add one cup of milk, whisking constantly. It may look lumpy but if you keep whisking they well break down and the mixture will harden again. As soon as it's hard, add the second cup of milk. Stir - this time you'll end up with a smooth thin sauce. Whisk occasionally over a low heat - it's important that you don't rush the process as you want to rid the sauce of any flour taste and that takes time. The sauce usually thickens from the outside in, so just whisk to amalgamate the differing consistencies.

Once it's thickened again add the final cup of milk and repeat the whisking process. This will give you quite a nice thick béchamel - you can add more milk if you want a more thinner sauce but only add it ¼ cup at a time until you achieve the desired thickness.

Add the grated cheeses and use a spoon to stir them through the sauce - continue cooking until the cheeses melt. Add a little white pepper and salt to taste. White pepper is preferred to Black pepper as it doesn't leave the sauce speckled with black dots. Take the sauce off the heat.

Assemble the dish:

Place about half the cauliflower pieces into a baking dish - sprinkle over with a little parmesan and tasty cheese then dot over with about a third of the béchamel. Top this with the remaining cauliflower and béchamel then sprinkle over with more parmesan and tasty cheese.

oven ready

Cook in a preheated 180°C/350°F until golden brown and heated through - about 30-45 minutes.


It's cheesy and creamy and wonderfully tasty - how could it not comfort you? Easily eaten on it's own but it makes a perfect partner to many a main - be it beef, pork or chicken.

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  1. this is one of my mum's favorite dishes and so it was always prepared for her on special occasions by my father as a token of his love. Definitely one of my own dishes of comfort too :)

  2. Haalo, my mom used to make this dish a lot when I was a kid - I love cauliflower!

    This is a great way of having vegetables (for those who don't like them - not me! I love them!) :D

  3. Funny you should mention shelling peas. I was talking to my wife about it and was saying how much better fresh peas taste than frozen. Good on you for getting out the scales, these days I only use them for baking, the rest is always by eye which makes it rather hard to write recipes.

  4. Hi Bucket - how lovely of your father to do that - what wonderful memories to have!

    Hi Patricia - I don't know how anyone could not eat cauliflower when it's prepared this way - it's simple but oh so delicious.

    Hi Neil - fresh is usually best and while frozen peas are pretty good, fresh ones just have a certain something to them. Savoury dishes are more free-spirited things and there's room to interpret them to your own preferences although for sauces and the like, there are certain rules that need to be followed. For baking though, scales are the way for me.

  5. This is truly comforting! I learned to eat more creammy dishes when living in Australia. And I totally fall in love with them! :)

  6. Cauliflower cheese(as we called it) was truly comfort food.
    I must try your Mother's tip of sauteing the cauliflower in butter before putting the sauce over.Even though I'm a Mother now twice over, my Mother always makes me a small one when she makes one for herself. Just what good Mothers do I guess.

  7. Hi WP - the creamy foods are very addictive ;)

    Hi Cakebaker - it's lovely to see all these special connections we have with our mothers and it's always the simplest thing that means so much.

  8. Haalo,

    Just looking at this dish is comforting! I can only imagine how comforting it must be to actually eat it. What a lovely post!

    Thank you so much for taking part in this event!

  9. Thanks Ivonne - it was a lovely event to take part in!

  10. They look really good... it is a while I wanted to try cavolfiore alla besciamella. Thanks for participating.

  11. That looks delicious, and it's funny because I have a cauliflower from farmers' market that I was thinking about what to do with. This looks like just the right thing! Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Béchamel sauce, a must-do on my great list of food challenges and what a great recipe to try it with! Thank-you

  13. Thanks Orchidea - it was fun participating!

    Thanks Lisa - the cauliflower will appreciate this sauce!

    Thanks Sarah Lou - I hope you do give it a try!

  14. Cheesy and gooey and simple - can't go wrong with that! Thanks for the lesson on making the sauce. Great post.

  15. Thanks Sally - too true, you can't really go wrong with this sauce!

  16. Very comforting food indeed. Toast soldiers with soft boiled eggs are also my favorite!

  17. Thanks Andreas - you certainly have elevated soft boiled eggs and toast soldiers to an artform.


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