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
- Prep time 7 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 13 minutes
- Serves 8
medium onion (6 ounces), sliced thin
head very fresh cauliflower (about 1-1/2 pounds), broken into florets
Salt, to taste
5 1/2 cups
Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.