AN UNLIKELY METHOD REVEALS A SWEET SIDE TO THIS VEGGIE
If you judge cauliflower by the soups typically made with it, you might think this white vegetable is devoid not only of color but also of flavor. That’s because most cauliflower soups go overboard on the cream, thicken with flour, or incorporate ingredients like bacon or curry powder, whose potent flavors smother this vegetable’s more delicate ones.
But unlike potatoes (which are often used to similar effect in pureed soups), cauliflower actually has a wide range of flavors—from bright and cabbage-like to nutty and even sweet. The trick is to cook the cauliflower so these flavors come through in a soup.
The first step to repairing this recipe is omitting the cream. Most vegetables contain a lot of fiber that never breaks down, even after prolonged cooking. The cream is added to pureed soups to provide the illusion of silky smoothness. But cooked cauliflower purees more completely than other vegetables. It’s creamy without the addition of cream.
And forget about using flour. This old-fashioned approach was designed to “stretch” a vegetable soup to serve more people. The modern cook should instead thicken pureed soups with more vegetables. It’s also important to choose other ingredients that complement the flavor of the cauliflower. Leeks, onions, and a garnish of chives all play up the earthy, sweet notes in cauliflower.
But the real secret to this recipe is how the cauliflower is prepared. One head of cauliflower gets divided into three piles, each cooked differently, to create a soup that showcases the full range of flavors in this humble vegetable. This might just be the best soup you can make with so few ingredients.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Creamy Without the Cream
All vegetables have both soluble and insoluble fiber, but only the soluble kind fully breaks down during cooking, which contributes viscosity to soup. Insoluble fiber remains intact, and the best that the blades of a blender can do is break it down into smaller bits. But cauliflower has a leg up on other vegetables. It’s very low in overall fiber—and only half of it is insoluble. This means that cauliflower is easily pureed into a silky-smooth soup with no cream at all.
Water, Not Broth
Chicken or vegetable broth might seem like they’d add flavor to this soup—and they will. But chicken broth is too dominant and vegetable broth muddies the cauliflower flavor. Sticking with water and reaching for onion and leek gives the soup a pleasant background sweetness and welcome grassiness. And when it comes to a cooking fat in this soup, the sweet, rich flavor of butter is best.
Coaxing Out Different Flavors
Cauliflower’s flavor changes dramatically depending on how long you cook it. Shorter cooking times bring out its cabbage-like flavors, while longer cooking times turn it nuttier and sweet. Too much cooking time drives off all its flavor. To bring the full spectrum of possible flavors into this soup, add a portion of the cauliflower to the pot earlier in the cooking process and a portion a bit later.
A Cauliflower Garnish
Skip the usual crouton garnish and instead bring the intense nuttiness of roasted cauliflower to this soup by frying a handful of florets in lots of butter until golden brown. Tossed with sherry vinegar, the florets make an excellent complement when spooned onto the clean-tasting puree. And the browned butter left in the pan should not be forgotten; drizzling it over each bowl adds a complex richness as well as visual appeal.
To highlight the star ingredient, keep it simple—a sliced leek, butter, and lots of cauliflower.
Creamy Cauliflower Soup
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 10 minutes to prepare cauliflower, leek, and onion
- 50 minutes to prepare soup (make garnish during this time)
- 5 minutes to puree, reheat, and season soup
- Large saucepan for making soup
- 8-inch skillet for making garnish (Use a pan with a shiny or light surface so you can see when the butter has browned; don’t use a nonstick pan.)
Substitutions & Variations
- White wine vinegar may be substituted for the sherry vinegar.
Be sure to thoroughly trim the cauliflower’s core of green leaves and leaf stems, which can be fibrous and contribute to a grainy texture in the soup.
- 1 head cauliflower (2 pounds)
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
- 1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
- Salt and pepper
- 4½–5 cups water
- ½ teaspoon sherry vinegar
- 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
- Pull off outer leaves of cauliflower and trim stem. Using paring knife, cut around core to remove; slice core thin and reserve. Cut heaping 1 cup of ½-inch florets from head of cauliflower; set aside. Cut remaining cauliflower crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices.
- Melt 3 tablespoons butter in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leek, onion, and 1½ teaspoons salt; cook, stirring frequently, until leek and onion are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes.
- Increase heat to medium-high; add 4½ cups water, sliced core, and half of sliced cauliflower; and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add remaining sliced cauliflower, return to simmer, and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender and crumbles easily, 15 to 20 minutes longer.
- While soup simmers, melt remaining 5 tablespoons butter in 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add reserved florets and cook, stirring frequently, until florets are golden brown and butter is browned and imparts nutty aroma, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and use slotted spoon to transfer florets to small bowl. Toss florets with vinegar and season with salt to taste. Pour browned butter in skillet into small bowl and reserve for garnishing.
- Process soup in blender until smooth, about 45 seconds. Rinse out pan. Return pureed soup to pan and return to simmer over medium heat, adjusting consistency with remaining water as needed (soup should have thick, velvety texture but should be thin enough to settle with flat surface after being stirred) and seasoning with salt to taste. Serve, garnishing individual bowls with browned florets, drizzle of browned butter, and chives and seasoning with pepper to taste.
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