Paul Bertolli's Cauliflower Soup

By • December 2, 2011 283 Comments

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Author Notes: This soup might seem plain, but trust us. Paul Bertolli, who was at the helm of Chez Panisse and Oliveto for over 20 years, knows exactly how to make a vegetable become the best it can be. This recipe comes from Cooking by Hand, Bertolli's IACP award-winning book of recipes and essays, and makes for a soup that's delicate, sweet, and smooth as a flannel scarf.Genius Recipes

Serves 8

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion (6 ounces), sliced thin
  • 1 head very fresh cauliflower (about 1-1/2 pounds), broken into florets
  • Salt, to taste
  • 5 1/2 cups water, divided
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat without letting it brown for 15 minutes.
  2. Add the cauliflower, salt to taste, and 1/2 cup water. Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot tightly and stew the cauliflower for 15 to 18 minutes, or until tender. Then add another 4 1/2 cups hot water, bring to a low simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes uncovered.
  3. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender to a very smooth, creamy consistency. Let the soup stand for 20 minutes. In this time it will thicken slightly.
  4. Thin the soup with 1/2 cup hot water. Reheat the soup. Serve hot, drizzled with a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.

More Great Recipes: Cauliflower|Soup|Vegetables|Appetizers|Soups

Topics: Soups

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Comments (283) Questions (11)

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13 days ago stephen

simply deliscious

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17 days ago SarahBunny

The only change I made was to omit the final half cup of hot water -- I agree with other reviewers that this soup is thin. The flavor is fantastic, though. I used purple cauliflower and the color was mind-blowing -- makes me wish I'd had dinner guests to freak out with (naturally) pale purple soup!

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21 days ago RobR

If you aren't concerned with keeping the color a pure white, there are a lot of things you can do with this. Allowing the onions to caramelize slightly in the first part of step 2 (after the water cooks away) will add some flavor. I also throw in a half cup of uncooked lentils in the second half of step 2 and puree that in. The lentils improve the texture quite a bit I think, but if you add two much you start getting lentil soup. Also, I made garlic confit (there's a recipe up here) and threw a few cloves of that in during step 2.5. Really good.

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about 1 month ago Dianne Jackson

This soup is very light and tasty, but use at least 1 cup less water, or more cauliflower. Otherwise, it's a pretty watery soup.

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2 months ago Irene

I have make this many times but I use brown butter instead of olive oil the best soup I have had.

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4 months ago Strohm Armstrong

I made something similar to this the other night, except I roasted the califlower instead of stewing it.

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5 months ago Kathleen

Sauté some bacon with the onions, add garlic and less water. Place a slice of grilled rye bread in the bottom of the bowl and add soup!!!!

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5 months ago Anuradha Shenoi

This soup is missing a super important ingredient!! Garlic!
Made this soup even more WOW!

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5 months ago Wendy Cook

I made this soup for lunch - very easy and surprisingly flavorful given the limited ingredients. I substituted shallots for the onion.

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5 months ago AmyRuth

Suzi
You gotta love it when you can take something so controversial and basic as this soup, repurpose it and make yet another discovery that blows you away.

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5 months ago suzi

indeed. took some to my mother the other nite for her dinner and then told her today about my additions bragging and salivating both at the same time!!

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5 months ago suzi

this soup has more comments than any other dish i have ever seen!! now i am adding one more after making it for the third time. last nite i did breakfast for dinner which gave me leftovers of skillet red potatoes, onion and green pepper today. i had half quart of your soup leftover from a few days ago so… warmed it up, plopped in those skillet veggies (had a little cayenne in there) added some red pepper flakes and had me a hearty delicious stew with my green salad for lunch! YUM! had to share. this soup just begs to be played with doesn't it?

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6 months ago Regine

After having had this soup for dinner last night, I brought some leftover at work for lunch. This soup is amazingly good, and even more so because it is so healthy - and even after you drizzle some EVOO on top. It tastes rich. For those that say it is bland, it is probably because you have not added enough salt. Another Food52er said to add 1 1/2 tsp salt (table salt), and I think she is absolutely right. I did add 2 instead of 1 1/2 tsp, but I think 1 1/2 would have been even better. The variations to this soup are endless. You can add other (non salty) spices like turmeric, garlic etc.; and toppings of your choice (none, chopped chives or spring onions or parsley or cilantro..., croutons, a few small cubed potatoes, etc.).

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6 months ago Regine

I forgot to add that I cheated and very successfully used 1 1/2 bag of 16oz (thus 11/2 lb as per recipe) frozen cauliflower florets.

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6 months ago Mary

That's just wrong,sorry.
Please try it with the freshest organic cauliflower you can find.

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6 months ago Regine

Made this for dinner. Really good. Tastes creamy and almost buttery. Drizzled with evoo and sprinkled chopped chives. Very versatile. Can be served as is or with a few things on top like crumbled bacon, steamed asparagus as per another Food52er, or even some grated cheese.

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6 months ago Anna Snodgrass

I have made this soup a lot of times for friends. It is perfect for many folks with dietary issues and blows folks away when I tell them how few ingredients are involved. I have a special twist. I add butternut squash seed oil to the top instead of olive oil. It brings a nutty flavor out of the soup that is simply stelar!

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6 months ago Glenn

What a neat suggestion! How much do you put, just a drizzle?

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6 months ago pcskinner

My new Spring addition to this silky smooth soup is to place a 1/2 cup of bright green steamed fresh asparagus in the center of individual bowls of hot soup then drizzle your EVOO and cracked black pepper on top. Delightful!

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6 months ago dajnyc

using best quality olive oil and well-seasoned with salt and fresh pepper, there's no improving this simple, delicious soup.

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6 months ago julianna kapp

suggestion: cook half the cauliflower first, for half the time. This breaks down the water soluble fiber and makes it creamy. At "half time" add the rest of the cauliflower. This adds the true fresh, not overcooked taste. Continue as you want.

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6 months ago Glenn

Interesting! I'll try it. Thank you.

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5 months ago Lula Mae Broadway

Was that inspired by America's Test Kitchen Cauliflower soup recipe?

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4 months ago Glenn

So I just made this again. I added half the cauliflower in the second stage as Julianna Kapp suggested (thank you), added five cloves of garlic in the second stage (I love garlic). Added one strip of Kombu in the first stage, and another in the second stage. It is SO delicious -- but a little too salty (I should have omitted the 1-1/2 tbsp salt given the Kombu).

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7 months ago JORJ

I made this this weekend and it came out delicious, with a very essence-of-cauliflower taste. I am confused though how it is possible to cook onions without browning them for 15 minutes. I set a timer and stirred a lot and the onions were basically caramelized. The texture was good, definitely something that I want to try to make again.

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7 months ago RavensFeast

Try turning down the heat even lower (I have an electric oven and sweat the onions at medium-low to low. At first, it appears that nothing is happening, but eventually those onions will start to sweat and cook gently until soft and translucent but not brown.

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7 months ago Pegeen

Pegeen is a trusted home cook.

JORJ, I saw your "onion" question about this on the Food52 Hotline and answered it there.

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7 months ago Nyborg

i've also served this soup, as per the recipe, to many ecstatic responses. cauliflower has a particular substance in it, from what i understand, that creates the consistency of this soup when you let it stand as per the recipe. don't know if broccoli would do that. this is a subtly wondrous soup as per the recipe. but it may not be for people who want oomph from their soups.

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7 months ago Glenn

I agree. Although I'm embarrassed to confess that many times I didn't let it stand for 20 minutes, and it was still good. But I agree that the cauliflower has a frothy, even creamy consistency (people sometimes think there is cream in it) that a broccoli version of this soup might not have. I am hoping that "sweating" the onions and broccoli will keep the flavor. I do use a BlendTech to blend the soup and I am betting that I could get the broccoli soup to be either a green, hot (yes, Mahadana!) , flavorful drink (another nutrient dense water), a creamy light soup (sans cream), or whether I blend more roughly to get a rustic soup/smoothie.