I think cauliflower is underrated. This chameleon of the crucifer family is always a willing vehicle for delivering complimentary flavors, unlike cabbage, which is often bitter, and bracing, or broccoli which always asserts its individual broccoli-ness no matter what other flavors it is paired with. However, cauliflower gets to be the star while all the other ingredients are the supporting players in today’s recipe. The flavor of the soup comes from roasting the cauliflower with olive oil till it caramelizes to a deep golden brown, bringing out an inherent nuttiness that don’t always have a chance to shine on its own. Its slightly smoky rich taste might make you think that it contains bacon or a lot of cream in it, but in fact this a dairy-free soup that can also be a vegetarian one if you prepare it with vegetable stock.
I first encountered this delightful Roasted Cauliflower Soup at a very memorable dinner party given by my friends Roger and Vicki earlier this month. The memory of each course is making my taste buds giggle, even weeks later, as the entire meal was a joy from start to finish. And while I may not have the means or expertise to smoke my own duck breast, make my own puff pastry, or prepare an exquisite rack of lamb dish the way Roger did that night, I definitely have the wherewithal to recreate the cauliflower soup that he made for us.
In fact, I’ve made this soup at home three times in the past ten days. It is so easy to prepare and is totally satisfying, and I know that you’re going to love it too. I usually make up a double batch of this healthy and beautiful soup so that I can enjoy it for days in a row. And I love that it gives me even more time and energy to devote to making my apartment more healthy and beautiful too.
ROGER’S ROASTED CAULIFLOWER SOUP
Barely adapted from a recipe by Roger Wagner, February 2010
Roger said that this recipe was inspired by a soup he experienced once upon a time in a restaurant (name unknown), and he’s been making it at home ever since. The important thing is to really hammer the cauliflower in the oven, making sure that it roasts to a deep golden brown because that is what gives the soup its complex flavor. I added the thyme leaves and a little more carrot and garlic, but otherwise I'm following Roger's recipe on this.
1 large head cauliflower
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for roasting and drizzling at the end
1 medium onion, diced
½ cup diced carrot
2 to 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
4 cups chicken stock (you can also use low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
Preheat the oven to 425°. Cut the cauliflower into small florets and place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil. Coat them liberally with olive oil, season with a few grinds of sea salt and fresh pepper. Roast until deep golden brown for about 45 minutes, stirring several times to make sure they brown evenly.
While the cauliflower is roasting, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and cook for about 10 minutes until it begins to soften. Add the carrots, garlic and thyme leaves, lower the heat to medium-low, and continue to cook until all the vegetables have softened, another 10 minutes or so.
When the cauliflower has finished roasting, add it to the pan with the onion mixture. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the soup cook at a gentle simmer for about 25 minutes, giving the flavors a chance to get to know each other. When the cauliflower is very soft, remove from the heat and puree till smooth with an immersion blender. (Alternately, you can puree the soup in batches in a food processor or a standard blender.) If the soup is too thick, add a bit more water or stock to reach the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, as needed.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Top with a a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of fresh thyme or a bit of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serves 4.
Here's a picture of my little kitchen, which is definitely going to be my next project!