5 Ingredients or Fewer

Genius Cauliflower Soup From Paul Bertolli

July  7, 2021
4.4 Stars
Photo by James Ransom
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

Test Kitchen Notes

When our Genius Recipes columnist and creative director, Kristen Miglore, was sent this recipe back in 2011, she was more than a little bit doubtful. How could putting a cauliflower and an onion in a pot with water, and more water, and more water (!), ever result in a bowl of tastiness? “It sounds a little too Charles Dickens…it’s downright grim,” she wrote.

How happy (and relieved!) she was to be proven wrong. This genius recipe comes from a chef no less genius himself: Paul Bertolli, head chef at Chez Panisse and Oliveto for 20-plus years. In other words, the man knows his way around a vegetable.

Sweating the onions in olive oil, low and slow, makes for a deep, lingering sweetness that forms the backbone of the soup. Stewing the cauliflower florets in that oniony goodness, until everything is utterly soft and melty, is Bertolli’s low-key way of carrying that high-impact vegetal sweetness even further. At this point, you may be tempted to add crème fraîche, bacon, vadouvan, or a knob of butter—but don’t. We dare you. This is one of those instances where less truly yields more; where cauliflower-and-onions is greater than the sum of its parts, two vegetables have made a right, et cetera. You get the point.

Now that you’ve slowly backed away from the butter, plop the stockpot’s contents into a blender and blend until smooth. Let stand for 20 minutes—clean out a junk drawer, go for a walk, meditate—the soup gets all the creamier, dreamier, and more luscious with the wait. —Coral Lee

Watch This Recipe
Genius Cauliflower Soup From Paul Bertolli
  • Prep time 7 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 13 minutes
  • 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
In This Recipe
  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 (or use an immersion blender). 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jasser Abu-Giemi
    Jasser Abu-Giemi
  • Marden
  • Cheryl Zelus
    Cheryl Zelus
  • keithcancook
  • Martha Formosa
    Martha Formosa
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

372 Reviews

Jasser A. June 19, 2022
It’s basically hot white water with a tad bit of salt. Not appealing.
Gloria June 19, 2022
What a waste of time.No flavor. Not inedible, but now I have to make a meal that has taste and substance. Look elsewhere....
Gloria June 19, 2022
Seriously disappointing. Tasteless.
Anne M. January 1, 2022
I was looking for an elegant soup for a New Year’s Eve dinner. This soup is velvety but tasteless. We added Parmesan and hot sauce. Would be good with a swirl of pesto.
Susan January 1, 2022
I felt the same way. Using black garlic adds depth of flavor too.
Marden December 30, 2021
Just made this favorite recipe again for the umpteenth time. I usually follow exact directions but today since our family is battling the flu, I added a whole bulb of garlic to the steaming cauliflower. Hoping the medicinal properties of the garlic will speed the healing along. The flavor is still mild and absolutely delicious!
Julie B. December 30, 2021
I love this soup. I often top it with truffle oil (not too much!) and it's just so warm and cozy on a cold night. It's simple, yes, but therein lies the beauty. It's a wonderful expression of cauliflower. Follow the recipe - I can't imagine using any sort of stock, I think it would take away from the pure taste. I have tried substituting leeks and shallots for the onion, and decidedly prefer using a sweet white onion, which compliments but doesn't overwhelm the cauliflower. So easy to make too. An absolute winner.
Cheryl Z. October 29, 2021
I was dubious, but if you follow these directions faithfully this soup is superb.
judy September 18, 2021
after reading reviews, made with no sodium aded vegetable broth. I also ALWAYS use the green from the cauliflower--actually my favorite part. if I can get to a farmers market, I try and get one that hans't been trimmed yet. Anyway, this was delicious. But I think would have been too subtle flavor with only water. thanks.
Mary September 1, 2021
Made this as close to recipe as I ever do. It was good and I used as a soup base. It's a blank slate with the mild flavor and can accommodate many additions either lumpy like veggies or finer like curry powder/spices. It's also fine as a classic first course if you entertain that way. I don't.
I am not sure if my tastes are just very different from many of the reviewers. I found the soup very watery and not very tasty. Rather than throw it out. I had some small pieces of cheese in the frig (gruyere and and some swiss I think) I chopped them in small pieces and let them melt into the cheese) That along with some onion powder worked for us.
Dianne J. July 7, 2021
Use more cauliflower and leave out a cup or more of the water. Also, some fat croutons on top with a drizzle of olive oil improves things. We love this soup. It’s so simple.
keithcancook February 3, 2021
I have made this as written several times,and then I started to tweek it.
Added leeks,grated peeled apples...then blended,I have put Paquin chili,pancette,curry powder,Parma rind,poached shredded chicken...all made the soup even better..endless posdibilities
Martha F. February 2, 2021
I was doubtful that this soup could be as good as the reviews rate it. It's just tooo simple and has very few spices. But I made it as written and to my great surprise, it's subtly delicious! And it's so simple to make. It's magic that there is such favor from such few ingredients. I will be making this recipe often -I highly recommend trying it - as written.
Celia November 9, 2020
Simple creamy deliciousness!
Ann October 18, 2020
Fantastic soup. I was skeptical, given the limited ingredients and my propensity to roast vegetables first, but decided to try the recipe as written. It is delicious and so easy to make. Using purple cauliflower yields a beautiful color. A drizzle of olive oil on top with a few sautéed florets and it is food photography worthy!
ckyatl October 6, 2020
Easy to make and delicious. Followed recipe and at the end added 1/2 tsp. of mushroom "better than bullion". Creamy and rich, my whole family loved it.
robin L. May 5, 2020
This is delicious! (Even better with homemade croutons. )
Bluerroses April 11, 2020
Stellar! I've made this twice. The first time, I made a gorgeous soup with purple cauliflower to celebrate lesbian friends' engagement. Tonight, I made a double batch for my husband and I and for a friend with cancer. It was simple, elegant and satifying. Note: I neglected to leave the top off for the 20 minute cooking segment. It didn't hurt the soup at all. Also, at the end, I added quite a bit of salt and a tablespoon of white miso, which balanced the flavor..
Marden March 25, 2020
This soup is most delicious, creamy and gentle flavored. I followed this genius recipe exactly and it is truly wonderful!👍
Marden March 25, 2020
This soup is most delicious, creamy and gentle flavored. I followed this genius recipe exactly and it is truly wonderful!
bellly January 15, 2020
So simple, so good
bellly January 15, 2020
I used an immersion blender.
bellly January 15, 2020
Oh and I used broth.