Paul Bertolli's Cauliflower Soup

By • December 2, 2011 • 261 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.
Jump to Comments (261)

Topics: Soup

Comments (261) Questions (11)


10 days 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.


10 days ago Glenn

Interesting! I'll try it. Thank you.


13 days 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.


13 days 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.


13 days ago Pegeen

Pegeen is a trusted home cook.

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


27 days 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.


27 days 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.


27 days ago Mahadana

Finally, Glenn has summed up the issue many of us have with the original recipe (not doctored up) by describing as a healthy water drink. I'd add "hot."


27 days ago Glenn

I have made this recipe many times and I understand comments about it being bland (I would say "simple, light, delicate") and those wanting more spices or veggies in it. For me I think of it less as a soup but as a healthy way to drink water (it's about 225 calories for a lot of liquid and nutrients, plus the calories in the oil) and to get cruciferous vegetables, or as a cauliflower "broth", which I think lessens expectations of a hearty or rustic soup. I have added stock, water that is unfused with Kombu and turmeric, drizzled with olive oil or truffle oil, put in Japanese seaweed salts, and you just can't ruin this soup. The Maldon salt finishing flakes are wonderful. Make it the way you want after trying the original recipe. I like the Foriana sauce idea mentioned herein, the crouton idea, for a change of pace now and then. I agree that this is wonderful as is (and it's so simple I can always just whip it up quickly), but is also a wonderful, healthy base soup that you can then take where you want to go with it. I am eager to substitute broccoli for the cauliflower and see if it's as good -- or half broccoli and half cauliflower.


about 1 month ago Karen

This was so delicious and simple. I am surprised at the negative comments and wonder if it has to do with the type of onions used or the quality of the olive oil, because I served it to a foodie group and everyone loved it. I already got another cauliflower to make it again!


about 1 month ago Elizabeth Marlow

This recipe is boring and tasteless. Carmelize those onions! Add flat-leaf parsely, garlic, red pepper flakes, lots of salt and pepper, chicken or vegetable stock instead of water and touch of cream. VERY important: you need two head of cauliflower, not one, to get a true cauliflower taste. And then you have a tasty soup that's worthy of Chez Panisse. ;)


about 1 month ago Barbara Bahr-Gerstner

Thanks for the hints! My friend tried this and said it was bland and thin. Instead of plain water I'm going to do half veggie broth and 1/2 almond milk and perhaps add a potato for a little more thickness.


about 1 month ago marvista

Love this soup, I never understood cooking the cauliflower for so long, tho. I cook the onions a long time, then steam the cauli til it's just soft enough to blend. Pour in more water to stop the cooking let it cool a bit to blend and strain. . If you have a nice fresh cauli, dont let it get all cabbagey by cooking for 40min!


2 months ago dcfoodie

We made this as our starter for Christmas dinner and it was really delicious and so simple. I was worried it would be bland since the recipe was so easy. I think cooking down the onion added a lot of flavor. And we may have used a little less water since we like a thicker consistency soup.


2 months ago Key

I'm with Tbird and Nancymk - after making this twice, I found it to be consistently and exceptionally bland. Adding things to try and make it not bland would only serve to glop it up.


2 months ago HaylesYeah

The soup is so perfect and so easy it's become a weeknight staple. Plus it's been my go-to recipe for my friends with babies (and even they are fans too). I've only ever added a whips of truffle oil or black maldon salt to garnish at the end because I'm too paranoid to muss up perfection. But I may try to sub the water for homemade stock next week. Folks who've done this, what's your gauge?


3 months ago chichichicken

Such a delicate and beautiful soup! I cooked the onion slices in coconut oil and pork lard and halfway through I added chopped garlics and some pine nuts. I also used store-bought chicken broth (Maggi to be exact). The end result was silky, nutty, and delicious soup. Next time I'll try with homemade homemade vegetable stock or dashi.


4 months ago Ralph Taylor

Substituted low sodium chiken broth for the water and also added a little heavy cream for richness. Drizzled a little Extra Virgin Olive oil and a dollop of Creme Fraiche. Also added seasoned croutons. Was trying (successfully) to duplicate a meal I had in Aubeterre, France.


4 months ago reneej

I'm not sure how to remove myself from getting an email every time anyone comments on this thread.
Any ideas?


4 months ago emliza

I love this soup! I have it with grilled portobello mushrooms - fabulous.


4 months ago Madelaine Linebarger

I have not made this soup yet but I'm thinking a drizzle of white truffle olive oil sounds lovely. Now I'm going to have to go out and buy some tomorrow!


4 months ago Tbird

Well here's a first. A negative review. Followed directions exactly, and got a bland soup. I've added lots of salt and pepper to give it some flavor. Bummed, as I was expecting a great soup. Nancy McK... I'm in agreement with you. I think Chicken Stock would have been better, but not sure if that would have done it. Oh well, can't win em all and it was a low cost investment.

Now... what to feed my kids, because they're still hungry!! :)


4 months ago maggie rogers

I am making this soup again because it is so good. I used all chicken broth instead of water and toward the end threw in a rind of Parmesan cheese. Delicious!


4 months ago Nyborg

I made this soup again last week, for about the fourth time since first finding the recipe. It was incredibly delicious. Used fresh cauliflower from the greenmarket. Otherwise followed the recipe to the letter. Thanks again for the recipe!


4 months ago Nancy Mck

I think it's hilarious that you keep printing this recipe. I made it once and thought it was bland and boring. Everyone kept raving so I made it again. And guess what? It's bland and boring.