An Irish Chef in France

In Ireland, at the end of the last century, a vegetable accompaniment often produced at large functions was Cauliflower Cheese.

There were various reasons for this, Cauliflower is reasonably easy to grow in Ireland and therefore cheap. Because it rested in its own sauce it could be “put down” in a Bain Marie at an early hour with the idea that it would still be hot when served.

Unfortunately, by keeping this vegetable warm in this way it lost all its texture. I well remember a friend undergoing a meal with cauliflower in this condition and declaring that it was impossible to know where the cauliflower ended and the cheese sauce began.

At the moment Sile and I are alone in Le Presbytere, so I went shopping for a supper a little lighter than that we would serve to our guests.
This morning in the market there was a certain dearth of fresh vegetables. Over here in France a lot of the autumnal vegetables are over but the good winter substitutes are only just starting to come in.

There were, however, some delicious looking Cauliflowers, white, crisp and still dew covered so I decided to give them a go.

I could of course have roasted the florets with spices and garlic and olive oil, as I often do down here, but instead I decided to give the old Irish method a whirl and see if I could produce a French version of Cauliflower Cheese with local ingredients, which I could be proud of, which would be delicious, and crisp and zinging with flavour.

First change, I decided to roast the cauliflower instead of boiling it before I married it to the cheese sauce. I broke my cauliflower into florets tossed them in melted butter, seasoned it with salt and black pepper and put it into a hot oven for about twenty minutes, until they were just starting to get tender, while I got on with the rest.

Next step was to make a good crunchy topping - easily done. I chopped the remains of the morning’s baguette into slices and dropped it into the food processor until it was broken into coarse pieces - hardly breadcrumbs, more like bread shards. These shards I fried in butter until they turned golden brown and crisp.

The cheese sauce I made in much the same fashion as I would have in Ireland, with butter, flour and milk, but the cheese was a mixture of mature Comté and some very un-French Parmigiano.

So now I had my whole dish to put together (and Nota Bene this was the star turn of the dinner- no playing second fiddle to beef or salmon). The roasted Cauliflower was covered with the cheese sauce and then topped with the crisp bread before it was put into a hot oven for about 30 minutes.

It was, I am delighted to report, delicious and would happily constitute a dinner all on its own (being however a typical Irishman I had to have some baked potatoes on the side)
The Cauliflower retained its bite, the cheese sauce was deeply cheesy and the bread topping provided just the right crunchy contrast. An excellent result.

Martin Dwyer started cooking professionally over 40 years ago in the legendary “Snaffles Restaurant” in Dublin. After a time in a Relais Chateau in Anjou and in “The Wife of Bath” in Kent he opened his own acclaimed restaurant, “Dwyers”, in Waterford in 1989. In 2004 he sold this and moved south to France where he and his wife Síle bought and restored an old presbytery in a village in the Languedoc. They now run Le Presbytère as a French style Chambre d’Hôte. Martin however is far too passionate about food to give up cooking so they now enjoy serving dinner to their customers on the terrace of Le Presbytère on warm summer evenings. Martin runs occasional cookery courses in Le Presbytère and Síle’s brother Colm does week long Nature Strolls discovering the Flora and Fauna of the Languedoc.
Le Presbytère can be seen at:;

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