5 Ingredients or Fewer

Genius Cauliflower Soup From Paul Bertolli

December  2, 2011
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. 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.

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Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Creative Director Kristen Miglore.