Back to school means a return to comfort food

Cauliflower cheese rigatoni with seasoned tomatoes comes together in half an hour

Cauliflower cheese rigatoni

Cauliflower cheese rigatoni

 

While we’ve had a glorious summer I’m not sorry to see some warming dishes back on the menu as the evenings get cooler. Cauliflower cheese is one such dish. Comforting nursery food that has such a pleasing texture and consistency, I could eat it all day.

This dish was inspired by a recent project I worked on where I got to visit a large cheese factory, this girl’s dream! I love seeing how food is produced, especially on a large scale. Huge trucks delivering fresh milk from neighbouring farms and more trucks leaving full of delicious cheese. I also got to visit a smaller farmhouse cheese producer, Hegartys, in Cork. Dan Hegarty is the fifth generation of his family to farm the land there. I’ve been a fan of Hegartys cheddar for many years now and was amazed to see how they produce it, still in the traditional, labour intensive way that cheddar has always been made.

The cows from their own herd are milked next door to where the cheese is made. Only a window separates them and you can look in and see the cows all lining up to be milked as they come in from the lush grass outside each day.  The fresh milk is used immediately and within hours the curd is being separated from the whey, salted and packed into huge 20kg rounds. All done by hand and with skilled precision from cheese makers Jean Baptiste and Quentin.

It’s then pressed and left overnight for all of the curds to fuse together. It’s covered in cotton muslin like all traditional cheddar and is placed in the maturing room to settle and develop the flavours. It was so fascinating to be able to taste the landscape.

Just like wine, cheese represents its terroir. There are so many factors that affect the final outcome of the cheese from the weather to the grass and cows. Hegartys also produce a very special Alpine style cheese, Templegall. If I had to pick a favourite cheese I think this would win out. Produced in huge 40kg rounds, this cheese needs to be bathed in salt regularly, it’s a high maintenance cheese for the producer but the taste is spectacular.

With my children returning to school I’m  trying to be as organised as possible when it comes to our evening meal. I start off this way each September, slowly descending as we reach October’s midterm and by December it’s mince pies for dinner as we rush out the door to various school concerts. So I’m always keen to prepare ahead and have a plan for dinner.

A pasta bake is always so handy. This comes together in less than half an hour but is also ideal for prepping in batches and freezing. I serve this with slices of seasoned tomatoes and a crisp green salad. 

Recipe: Cauliflower cheese rigatoni

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