If you found a recipe that told you to put a cauliflower and an onion in a pot, then add water, then add water ... then add some more water, you'd probably put down the cookbook and wander away looking for a cheeseburger, right?
It sounds a little too Charles Dickens, like something that would be served to 19th century prisoners or sad orphans in a musical. It's downright grim, which is why when Simran and Stacie at A Little Yumminess advised me of its inner genius, I felt it was my duty to try it.
I should have known. Paul Bertolli, who was at the helm of Chez Panisse and Oliveto for over 20 years, knows exactly how to make a vegetable -- a rather dejected vegetable at that -- become the best it can be. (In the language of Friday Night Lights, which we speak fluently at FOOD52, he is a kingmaker, the Coach Eric Taylor of the crucifera we never thought would amount to much.)
In Cooking by Hand, Bertolli's IACP award-winning book of recipes and essays, his formula for cauliflower soup is precise to the ounce and simple to follow, even if with a raised eyebrow. (Seriously, more water?)
It's tempting to add crème fraîche or bacon, vadouvan or a thick lump of butter -- trust me, we love those things and all of them would be delicious -- but I dare you to not add a thing.
When you curb your instincts to overseason and overfatten, yes, sometimes you end up with gruel -- but sometimes you end up with a supple, magical puree, one that's delicate and sweet and smooth as a flannel scarf. Even if you're not a fan of cauliflower (Bertolli isn't), you might make an exception for this soup.
Like butternut squash, cauliflower is one of those wintry vegetables that puts up no resistance. With a little boiling and swirling in a blender, it completely dissolves into a soup that eats like a hug.
After all that turkey and pie, and before whatever indulgences lie ahead, I think we're all ready for that.
3 tablespoons olive oil 1 medium onion (6 ounces), sliced thin 1 head very fresh cauliflower, about 1-1/2 pounds Salt, to taste 5 1/2 cups hot water, divided Extra virgin olive oil, to taste Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].
Photos by James Ransom
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."