Last week on Great Literature I featured that classic tome, The Doctor Who Cookbook. At the end of the article I included the full recipe for Elisabeth Sladen’s Cauliflower Cheese – you may remember Elisabeth Sladen as dauntless lady journalist Sarah-Jane Smith – here’s a picture of her being possessed by a stone hand while dressed as Andy Pandy:
I set the challenge to Outland Institute visitors to make this dish at home and report back (the Cauliflower Cheese, not the stone hand). I didn’t think anyone would be brave – or foolhardy – enough to try…
I was wrong. Journalist and travel-writer Tim Richards was up to the task, and he even invited me along to try the finished product (incidentally, Tim and I share a set of parents – it’s a funny story).
Tim has sent in this report:
Tim’s Notes on Chemistry Experiment #1: Sarah-Jane’s Cauli Cheese, or The Cauli of Morbius
When I first saw Elisabeth Sladen’s unconventional cauli cheese recipe, I thought “It’s a pasta recipe which has somehow collided with a cauliflower. Was she living in a poor student household and they had to substitute cauli for the more usual carbohydrate, because that was all that was left in the fridge?”
Other blog commenters derided the recipe as “weird”, but I thought it could work. So I invited John over on a Sunday evening, created the dish… and it turned out to be a bit weird.
In the cause of full disclosure I should reveal certain facts about how I interpreted the recipe, as Sladen was a bit vague (probably distracted by that big spider). For “onion” I used a red onion, for “red wine” I used shiraz, and for “farmhouse cheddar” I used Bega Strong & Bitey Cheddar (apparently “bitey” is now a real word you put on labelling).
I think my only mistake was using a fairly earthy shiraz (due to the bottle being already open). In the process it rendered down to a thick, dark, almost bitter sauce, at odds with the flavour of the cauli. In retrospect, I think a lighter wine, maybe a pinot noir, or even a sweet Italian red might have been in order. Salt did seem to even out the taste, but it was a bit odd.
Everything else was fine; it cooked as indicated, the cauli ended up nice and tender all the way through, and the sauce had lots of flavour. In conclusion though, it was a sauce looking for a pasta dish, and the cauliflower seemed overpowered.
I do wonder what sort of red wine Elisabeth Sladen had in mind. What were they drinking in British student dives back in the 1960s? (I’m still imagining she created this as a student…) But it was fun creating it, and it even looked a bit like the Brain of Morbius, so it was a fitting tribute to classic Doctor Who.
– Tim Richards
Thanks for that, Tim. I have to agree that the cauliflower itself was beautifully cooked, but there was an odd bitterness to the dish.
I also found myself wondering about how taste change over time – this recipe came from a book published in 1985, and we don’t know how old the recipe was then. Was the bitterness considered sophisticated at the time, and our palates have since changed? Or did “red wine” to a UK drinker in the 1980s mean something much sweeter than we would know now? Food goes in and out of fashion just as much as anything else, and the epicurial landscape of the early-80s would be quite different to today. Had cos lettuce and sun-dried tomatoes happened by then, or were they still to come? Someone should make a version of Life On Mars about celebrity chefs…
It also occured to me that we may well be the first people eating this dish since 1985. What would Elisabeth Sladen think, to know that half-way around the world people were sitting down to eat a dish she recommended 25 years ago?
So the challenge is still out there – if you would like to take part, simply make the recipe found here and let us know how it turns out – remember to take pictures! The internet audience loves nothing more than looking at cauliflower… And email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.