Fishing for compliments part 4 – The sprucing up of cauliflower cheese

As I wrote in part 1 of this fish-centred odyssey, when I was at the fishmonger’s buying the fish, I knew that at home I had ‘a great big leek’ as well as some cauliflower.

Now, I know that cauliflower is very good for you but cannot, in all honesty, have anything favourable to say about its flavour.  I have often seen it being eaten raw accompanied by a gooey dip.  It is rumoured to be much admired when baked and coated in cheese and presented as ‘cauliflower cheese’.  It can, also, be coated in a batter and then fried to produce a certain ‘crunch’ factor even.

And what does all this have to say to you?

That cauliflower is basically tasteless and simply can’t be eaten on its own; it needs a dip or some cheese or some batter to hide a quintessentially faux-bland taste.  And, last but not least, let us not forget that it is a cruciferous vegetable … the kind that have a bad reputation for windy consequences.

In view of the above, please do not ask me why I happened to have a cauliflower in the fridge.  I think I had bought it in order to feel virtuous.  “I, too, can eat cauliflower, you know” sort of thing.  And, just like Annie, in the 1946 Musical “Annie get your Gun” … I came home with my little catch of fish, thinking: “I can do this.  I can do better than cauliflower cheese”.   (For those of you who have never heard of this film … take a look at the youtube song “Anything you can do, I can do better” on this link … after about 1 minute after it starts).

If you take a look at the photo above, you might just manage to espy three sweet little fishies that are called ‘merluzzi’.  ‘Merluzzo’ is Italian for cod but as is very evident, these cod fishes can be very catwalk-size-8.  They are usually dredged in flour and fried when they come in this size.  However, since I was in an Annie-get-your-gun frame of mind … I somehow found a way to link them to cauliflower cheese and the ‘great big leek’.  Thus it is that this post is about a fish-based cauliflower cheese using leek as a casement and bechamel and saffron to make it sound interesting.  Boiled potatoes were added as sandwiching factor.

It was very easy to make … but there were many steps involved and hence, for the reader, many photos to look at.  Caveat emptor!  If you think you like the sound of it … by all means read through it.  Otherwise go to the very end/last photo and see what you make of it … I think this could make a good party dish.  A lot of the components can be prepared beforehand … and since it needs a final fling in the oven before serving … I am sure that it can be prepared the day before to be cooked on the day itself.


The first thing to do is make 500ml of bechamel sauce.

Then, boil up some water, and soak the leek leaves in it until they wilt.

Here are the leek leaves having a wash …

And here they are being wilted in hot water.  I had used the same water to gently poach the fish for a few minutes (see the fish in the background, cooling).

Once the fish was cool enough to handle, I removed the skin and flaked the flesh.

Here are the leek leaves, after they have wilted, placed in ice-cold water.  The fishy bits close to the knife got thrown away.

I used the same water to cook the cauliflower in too … and then, once its texture had softened so that a fork could run through it easily, I drained it.

I kept some of the cooking water to set aside.  This would be used later to soften the bechamel sauce, and add extra flavours to it.  The solid bits at the bottom of the pan is some cauliflower.

I used a potato masher to mash up the cauliflower.  I then added some salt and pepper to it.

And last, I grated some parmesan cheese.  I was getting into my zone by now and sipping the martini cocktail did much to keep my spirits up.


This is when a bit of zen is required.  As is often the case with fiddly operations, I called upon the forbearance of my talented daughter, with the excuse that I couldn’t roll the fish parcels and snap photos at the same time.

So … what we have here is one wilted leek leaf.  Some cooked cod fish.  And two, very red, pepper corns.  The idea is to roll the leaf so that we end up with a parcel.

When you have finished rolling up the parcels, cut them in half.

Heat up a few strands of saffron in a small pan … less than a minute.

Heat the water in which the cauliflower had cooked at the same time …

Switch off the heat and add the heated up saffron to the cauliflower water and let it steep for about 10 minutes.

Then pour all this into the bechamel … and look at the beautiful colour you end up with! So very cheerful … and the scent of saffron is very alluring too.  Switch on the heat and give it a good stir with a wooden spoon, taste and add salt and white pepper as desired.  While this is gently simmering …

Add the grated parmesan to the cauliflower …

Pour nearly all the hot, be-saffroned bechamel sauce onto the cauliflower and cheese and stir everything up.  Reserve the rest of the yellow bechamel for …

For some boiled potatoes which you can layer in an oven dish.  I used a masher to mash them up a bit and form one solid layer.  I then sprinkled two good pinches of salt.  Ooops — and I forgot to mention that the oven should have been preheated at around 180°C.

Place the cut up parcels of leek and fish on top of the layer of boiled potatoes.

Then spoon out the yellow cauliflower cheese sauce on top of those.

Cover the whole oven dish with the cauliflower cheese and bake for about 40 minutes.

And this is what it looked like when it came out of the oven, piping hot.

Dished up.

It is quite evident that I made up the dish as I went along and so my delight upon discovering that it tasted not-bad-at-all was all the more felt.  It was amazing, to me, that the flavour of the fish managed to hold its own against the stronger tastes of the parmesan and the saffron.  The next time I make it, it will probably take me less time and that’s always helpful.  The leek needs to be cooked a bit more rather than just left to wilt … and the dish could do with a little less saffron too.

And I’m still not convinced I like cauliflower ….!

About myhomefoodthatsamore

Community celebration via food, wine and all beautiful things.
This entry was posted in Fish and seafood, Secondi (main course, usually meat based), Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Fishing for compliments part 4 – The sprucing up of cauliflower cheese

  1. Sylvia Eken says:

    This looks great and through the pictures smells like more. I am certainly try this cauliflower and fish recipe, till now the only way I can appreciate caulifower is an Asian recipe to add curry. Thanks.

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