Cheese whizz

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Since I gave up living on World War II rations at Christmas of last year, I’ve been pleased to find how much of what I learned has stuck with me.

I’m now not so constricted as I was, meat, fat and sugar-wise, but I’m still using a minimum of fat and sugar at roughly WW2 levels. Also, no leftover is thrown away today if it can possibly become an ingredient tomorrow. I don’t eat meat, but the ball-and-chain does, so he has had an increase in fresh and smoked meats and a 100% decrease in tinned Spam and other potted meats.

One thing we’ve both increased is our cheese intake. Previously restricted to a tiny 2oz a week each, we’re now free to raid the fridges of Morrisons and the stalls at local food fayres in search of ever more exotic takes on cheddar. In particular, this has meant the return of fully-flavoured cheese sauces.

I’m a devotee of Nella Last, whose Mass Observation diaries have now reached a third gripping volume. She was a master at taking her tiny stipend from her manic-depressive husband and her small rations and turning in sumptuous meals that thrilled family and visitors throughout the 1940-1954 rationing period. Dotted through her diaries are little tips on how to eke out a small supply of something to make it seem far, far larger.

Cheese was something she seemed to stretch beyond imagination. Her and Will’s 4 ounces could make a cheese salad in the midst of the Blitz, thanks to the very simple idea of buying a crumbly cheese (Cheshire, Lancashire) and finely crumbling it through an ordinary salad. The result is startling: 2oz of cheese crumbled into a salad does indeed produce a flavoursome cheese salad – you wouldn’t know that it was such a micro amount.

Another trick was how to make cauliflower cheese without almost no cheese. This was done by buying a “sharp” (extra mature) hard cheese, making a white sauce and not putting the cheese in it. Instead, the cauli goes into the white sauce and the cheese gets added to two end slices of bread and turned into cheese breadcrumbs. The result is everything you could want in a cauliflower cheese… except virtually no cheese.

As I say, I’m no longer rationed cheese-wise. So for yesterday’s Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Cauliflower Mornay (it’s classier to call it that), I did put cheese in my white sauce. But I also made cheese breadcrumbs for the top. Best of all worlds.

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Here’s the recipe:

  • 8oz of cheese
  • Diced onion
  • Chopped fresh garlic
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower (these two came from my Abel and Cole vegbox)
  • Milk
  • Plain flour
  • Glug of olive or a knob of butter

Start pre-heating your oven to 200°C. Melt the butter/heat the oil on the stove. Fry off the onion until it starts going soft, then add the garlic. When the onion is transparent, add the plain flour a tablespoon at a time, stirring it in, until all the fat is absorbed. Now add a splash of milk, stir until absorbed, add another splash and keep doing this until you’ve got a gluey mess. Then keep doing it more until you’ve got a white sauce.

Cut the cheese in two, about two thirds and one third. Grate or crumble the larger piece into the white sauce and keep stirring as it melts. Now take two end pieces of bread and the remaining block of cheese and whizz them in a food processor or blender until you’ve got medium breadcrumbs.

Add the broccoli and the cauliflower to the cheese sauce, remove from heat and decant into an oven-proof dish or casserole. Coat with all the breadcrumbs, then put it in the bottom of the oven for about 20 minutes or until the breadcrumbs brown.

Serve with your choice of meat (smoked gammon goes well) and, since this has bread in it and we must heed Lord Woolton, another vegetable of your choice that isn’t potato.

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