Around the holidays, my mom often serves soup and sandwiches for a low-key meal the night before she’s serving a larger, more labor-intensive one. I’ve taken this tradition to heart. Not only is soup comforting for traveling guests, it’s also a welcome dish for the cook because it can be prepared in advance.
Inspired by a side dish of cauliflower with pears, sage, and hazelnuts from Andrew Carmellini’s Urban Italian, I took these same flavors and turned them into a fall soup. This soup is all about building layers of flavor -- you start with leeks and shallot, then lightly brown the cauliflower, potato, and pear with sage and thyme before adding chicken stock for a lazy simmer on the stove. You then puree the soup until it’s silky and smooth. I considered finishing the soup with cream or milk but decided it’s lovely without it.
The pear is definitely the secret weapon here -- it adds a subtle sweetness and marries perfectly with the other flavors. A prosciutto panini or simple grilled cheese sandwich makes a perfect accompaniment. Fear not making this soup for the self-avowed cauliflower haters in your family -- it's sure to win them over.
Test Kitchen Notes
Pear and Sherry vinegar are the star ingredients of this comforting autumn soup, adding a crucial hint of sweetness and complexity to what could otherwise be a fairly bland standby. Creamy and light, it fairly calls out improvisational touches, so feel free to play around by adding a crumble of Stilton, a scattering of crisp fried sage leaves, or a dollop of wasabi. - Kukharka —mitschlag
- Serves 4 to 6
1 T olive oil
2 T butter
1 large leek, white and light green parts, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
1 head cauliflower, green leaves and trunk removed, florets chopped
2 small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 large or 2 small pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
5 leaves fresh sage (or about 2 tsp chopped)
1 T chopped fresh thyme leaves
5 to 6 cups chicken stock
kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tsp sherry vinegar, or to taste (champagne vinegar also works well)
2 T finely chopped chives, for serving
- Heat the oil and butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leek and shallot, and cook until they are soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.
- Add the cauliflower, potato, pear, sage, and thyme, stirring to thoroughly coat them with the oil and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, stirring frequently, another 8 to 10 minutes. You're aiming for a little caramelization around the edges for depth of flavor.
- Add 5 cups chicken stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, lower heat to just maintain the simmer, and cook until all of the ingredients are very tender, about 30 minutes.
- With an immersion blender or regular blender, puree the soup until it’s smooth. If using a blender, you may need to do this step in batches, then return to pot. You're looking for a smooth, velvety texture, so take your time to blend thoroughly. Thin with more chicken stock, if needed, until you reach desired consistency.
- Season to taste with vinegar and salt and pepper. Serve in heated bowls, garnished with chives.