8 cups of fresh cauliflower florets (stem peeled)
1.5 litres whole milk (at room temperature)
4 heaped tbsp All-Purpose flour
200 ml cooking cream
2 chicken bouillons cubes
350 gm good quality shredded mozzarella
2 tbsp vegetable oil (overflowing)
2 heaped tbsp butter
A handful of salt
2 tbsp salt + 1/2 tsp ground cumin (for boiling cauliflower)
Cut the cauliflower into florets; discarding the stem; keeping only an inch of each stem. Peel the stems. Place into a large bowl. Wash the whole quantity under running cold tap water. Remove from water; swiftly between your fingers; avoiding and discarding dirty water in the bowl. Clean the bowl. Fill with plenty fresh tap water. Add a handful of salt to the bowl and add 30 mills of white vinegar to the water. Add the cauliflower florets to the solution; soak for only ten minutes. Discard water. Rinse under cold running tap water. Strain. Fill a large cooking pot with hot water; enough to cover cauliflower. Bring to a boil. Add two tablespoonfuls of salt and the cumin; to the running boiling water. Bring back to a boil. Add all quantity of cauliflower. Bring to a boil once more. The moment water boils with cauliflower; remove, covered, away from heat. Leave in water only for four minutes. Remove with a slotted spatula on to a metal or silicone strainer. This will keep it al dente; to continue cooking when baked. To make the béchamel sauce: Heat a medium-sized cooking pot over medium heat. Add butter and oil. When bubbly; add flour. Stir it in; until slightly changes colour and becomes aromatic. Away from heat; pour milk with one hand; while stirring with the other; by means of a whisk. Bring back over heat; stirring constantly. Add bouillons cubes, cream and sprinkle nutmeg. Continue stirring to dissolve cubes in and sauce thickens. Remove when it is bubbly. In a rectangular baking dish; sized 32 x 22 cms, or in a round 30 cm diameter baking tray; layer cauliflower pieces; in one layer, covering all base of container. You may need to divide; by means of a knife, a few cooked florets, if not most; in two; lengthwise up from floret to stem; in order to enable a flat base of the florets to rest flat on the base of baking tray. Sprinkle half quantity of cheese on top of cauliflower. Gently pour all the béchamel sauce on top of the cheese. Scatter evenly remaining mozzarella on top of béchamel. Bake in a preheated oven of 180 degrees Celsius; for 30 minutes, then remove. Allow to set for a few minutes then serve.
P.S.: If this recipe is followed precisely as given; no extra or less salt would be needed. It would be just perfectly salted; on the low side of taste.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 November, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly