I remember buying a box of Fecule de Pomme de Terre many years ago. The very fact that I can remember this bears witness to the vagaries of an aging mind. I can’t remember if I’ve just put the kettle on downstairs but a tiny cream and green packet, bearing a name that at the time meant nothing to me, is absolutely clear in my mind….as is the little shop in Old Compton St, Roche Brothers, that, like the cream and green packet, is no longer with us. Since that day, in the 1970’s, I have used fecule de pomme de terre and other similar vegetable flours, which are wonderful thickening agents for gravy or good for making quick and simple soups in the manner of de Pomiane, on many occasions. For some reason I never used them for thickening sauces such as thick cheese sauce and always fell back on a basic roux. However, recently I have found the idea of making a sauce from a base of butter and flour to be less and less attractive: flour power has lost its charm for me and those attractive little boxes have long been relegated to the back of the cupboard. The turning point was a cauliflower cheese which I have never particularly liked, along with macaroni cheese, because of the heavy flour based sauces. It occurred to me that warming creme fraiche in a pan, stirring good grated cheeses into the thick warm cream, pouring that mixture over the prepared cauliflower and cooking it until golden and bubbling was going to taste just fine: and it really did and does. This simple gratin of asparagus was made in an even simpler way and comes from the pages of Tender by Nigel Slater. A thick layer of seasoned creme fraiche was spooned over a pile of cooked, and still warm, asparagus spears followed by a generous grating of Parmesan cheese. The grill, without which there is no gratination, is not working in our oven so the dish was put into a hot oven until cream and cheese were both bubbling and as brown as an ill advised sun bather…with white patches.