Creamy Cauliflower Soup Sans Cream
Recipe from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan
Cauliflower has an enthusiastic following in France, where it is one of the staples of the winter market, its big, nubbled, snowy white heads standing out among the season's mostly brown vegetables. The hefty heads, the majority of which come from Brittany and are beautiful enough to be centerpieces, often serve as the base for rich sauces and cheesy toppings. Cauliflower's earthiness does lend itself well to cream and cheese, but the vegetable also has an elegant side, the one that shines in this light, smooth, pale soup, which has the look and texture of a velouté (cream soup) but not a drop of cream (there isn’t even a potato in it to thicken it). This is the soup I served to American friends in Paris in the hopes of making cauliflower converts of them — and it worked.
I served it generously peppered and plain, but it's a soup that welcomes embellishments, simple or lavish. For simple, consider drizzling the soup with a little walnut oil or dusting it with grated Parmesan or Comté. If you want to go lavish, top the soup with crème fraîche or, better still, crème fraîche and caviar — the slight saltiness of caviar is perfection with cauliflower. Or, if you're lucky enough to have a truffle, shave it over the soup; cauliflower and black truffles are an inspired combination. To get every bit of pleasure out of the combo, you should bring the hot soup to the table and shave the truffle over each person's bowl individually so that everyone can enjoy the fragrance that's released when the truffle is cut and further intensified when it's warmed by the soup.
For another elegant version of this soup, one that pairs it with a sister treasure from coastal Brittany, mussels, see Bonne Idée.
Makes 8 Servings
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 2 Vidalia, Spanish, or large yellow onions (about 3/4 pound), coarsely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, split, germ removed, and thinly sliced
- 3 celery stalks, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 thyme sprigs, leaves only Salt and freshly ground white pepper
- 1 head cauliflower, leaves removed, broken into florets (discard the tough core)
- 6 cups vegetable broth
- Extra-virgin olive oil or walnut oil
- Grated cheese
- Crushed toasted walnuts
- Crème fraîche or sour cream
- Shaved truffles
- 1. Put the olive oil and butter in a large Dutch oven or soup pot and warm over low heat. When the butter is melted, add the onions, garlic, celery, thyme, ½ teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of white pepper. Stir until all the ingredients glisten with oil and butter, then cover the pot and cook slowly, stirring often, for 20 minutes.
- 2. Toss the cauliflower into the pot and pour in the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so that the broth simmers gently, and cook, uncovered, for another 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very soft.
- 3. Puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor; or use an immersion blender. This soup is best when it is very smooth, so if you think it needs it, push it through a strainer. (If you’ve used a standard blender, this shouldn’t be necessary.) Taste for salt and pepper; I like to pepper the soup generously.
- 4. Serve plain or garnished with the topping of your choice.
Because it is elegant, this soup seems more suited to shallow soup plates than big bowls, but nothing about the crockery is going to change the enjoyment it delivers. If you’d like, top the soup with a drizzle of oil (olive or walnut), some grated cheese, toasted nuts, crème fraîche (or sour cream), caviar, or truffles.
The soup can be kept covered in the refrigerator for 3 days or, packed airtight, in the freezer for up to 2 months.