As the leaves crunch underfoot, and the fading light gives way to the bitter chill that hangs upon the air, the promise of a steaming bowl of hearty soup; a crisp, golden roast chook or any of the myriad of dishes that involve mountains of creamy, cheesy goodness is all that is needed to add that extra layer of warmth and comfort that we all so desperately crave during the cooler months.
My appetite turns up a notch and I find myself turning the oven on not just for the delight in cooking or baking something, but for the added warmth it provides in heating up our chilly little home.
A pot of rapidly boiling water sends licks of steam up against the coldness of the kitchen windows. A thick, luscious white sauce coats teeny-tiny tubes of pasta that have been flecked with garlic infused mushrooms before being tumbled into an oiled baking dish, only to be pulled from the oven 25 minutes later, transformed into a crispy-edged, golden mess of lava-like gloriousness - the epitome of comfort food - cauliflower mac and cheese.
No matter how chilled the air that hangs in the darkness of an Autumn evening, there will always be a warm glow emanating from within our kitchen and the promise of a meal that will gladden the heart.
A cosy cauliflower mac & cheese
450g cauliflower, broken up into small florets
100g swiss brown mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
40g unsalted butter
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
40g parmesan + an extra 2 tbsp
50g gruyere + an extra 2 tbsp
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
500 ml full-cream milk
2 tsp dijon mustard
a generous 1 cup of parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 180c fan-forced (200c conventional).
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil and cook macaroni for 5 minutes, adding cauliflower florets in with the pasta after this time. cook for another 3 minutes, stirring well. drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, begin the mushrooms. Heat the oil and butter in a medium-sized fry pan over high heat. Add mushrooms, stirring to coat in the oily, buttery mixture. Reduce heat to medium and continue to cook for 4 minutes or until golden. Add garlic and cook for another minute, or until it sends that wonderful aroma of mushrooms and garlic into the air. Remove from the heat, and add a pinch of salt and a good grind of black pepper. set aside.
Have all of the cheeses grated and ready and waiting. Melt butter in a medium-sized saucepan, add the flour and cook, while stirring for a couple of minutes or until it smells toasty. Pour in the milk, continuing to stir over medium heat until slightly thickened. This should take about 5 minutes. Stir through the cheeses, followed by the dijon, parsley, salt and pepper to taste.
Stir the mushrooms through the sauce and then mix this in thoroughly with the pasta and cauliflower before tumbling into a lightly oiled baking dish (mine measures 22cm x 30cm) scatter over the reserved parmesan and gruyere and place into the preheated oven for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, turn to the grill setting and cook for another 3-4 minutes or until it has reached a glowing golden hue.
Serve with a simple leaf salad and perhaps a few slices of fresh bread on the side.
If you happen to have leftovers, they make a wonderful lunch the following day. Simply reheat in the oven, covered with a sheet of foil.