There’s something immensely satisfying about using up an entire vegetable. It feels like reaching peak adulthood. Perhaps that’s why we’re drawn to the wise words of Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards from Sydney’s Cornersmith. The friends and co-authors of sustainable kitchen handbook Use It All share practical skills and food storage tips, but also ways to save money by using more of what you already have.

In this recipe, Elliott-Howery and Edwards teach us how to whip up a creamy bechamel sauce to cover a sauteed cauliflower, resulting in a golden-brown bake that’ll feed a household for dinner. It’s perhaps unsurprising that their top tip is to “use it all” – but, for many of us, that’s revolutionary. For the most fibrous parts of the vegetable, they say, “Saute them into submission and they will give you great texture and flavour.”

“Baking vegetables in a cheesy bechamel is very decadent,” they say. “This cooking technique suits all sorts of vegetables, and it’s also a wonderful way to turn the fibrous parts of vegetables into velvety, creamy bites.” You can serve the bake with a light green salad or as part of a veggie feast.

No cauliflower? Silverbeet or celery are delicious alternatives. “If you have stripped the leaves off a bunch of silverbeet, then save the stems to make a gratin. Slice into three-centimetre pieces, saute over medium heat with olive oil for five to seven minutes until soft, then bake in the cheese sauce.” For celery, use a whole bunch and saute in the same way until tender.

“The idea is that a small shop should stretch far if you know what to buy and how to use it well,” say the sustainable living advocates. “We encourage you to think of a recipe as a guided set of suggestions.”

Cornersmith’s whole cauliflower bake
Serves 4–6
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:
1.5kg whole cauliflower, leaves attached
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil

Cheese sauce
500ml full-cream milk
60g butter
40g plain flour
150g mature cheddar or gruyere, grated
Salt
Black pepper, freshly cracked

Method:
Strip the leaves and remove stems from the cauliflower and chop both into 2cm pieces. Chop the florets into bite-sized pieces and set aside.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil.

Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the leaves and stems along with a pinch of salt, then increase the heat slightly and saute for 15 minutes or until tender.

When the water comes to the boil, add the cauliflower florets to the saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Taste and cook the leaves and stems for a little longer if they are still tough. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 180°C.

For the cheese sauce, heat the milk to just below boiling point. In another saucepan, melt butter and flour over low heat and stir to make a roux. Do not let it brown. Add the warm milk, half a cup (125ml) at a time. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk until you have a thick white sauce. Add the cheese and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir until melted.

Spread the cauliflower leaves and stems in the base of a small baking dish and top with the florets. Pour the cheese sauce all over the cauliflower. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Serve hot.

This recipe is from Use it All by Alex Elliott-Howery and Jaimee Edwards, with photography by Cath Muscat. It’s available from Murdoch Books ($39.99).

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