5 Ingredients or Fewer

Genius Cauliflower Soup From Paul Bertolli

December  2, 2011
37 Ratings
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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • keithcancook
  • Martha Formosa
    Martha Formosa
  • robin lewis
    robin lewis
  • Marden
  • bellly
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

360 Reviews

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.
Scott C. November 5, 2019
Lovely and delicious soup. Surprisingly tasty and elegant. Avoid adding final half cup of water, otherwise soup will be too thin. In fact, I cooked out some of the liquid in the end over a very low flame, which helped give the soup a bit more body. Serve with a drop of harissa, some home made croutons, and a thin stream of EVOO or browned butter to top it all off. Guests were VERY impressed that such a creamy, satisfying soup was the product of so few ingredients. Will definitely add this to my fall rotation. Thanks to Paul Bertolli!
Leslie M. October 15, 2019
My sister in law just made this soup and it is so yummy. She said it was incredibly easy to make. I can’t wait to make it!
Tammy G. September 21, 2019
This is a weekly dish in our house. Amazingly simple and absolutely delicious. For those fellow food enthusiasts who are using an immersion blender, I recommend trying to use a vita mix or blender - I’ve tried both multiple times and the vita mix makes an enormous difference in consistency. Even so, with the immersion blender it’s still a delight!
salena April 20, 2019
Easy and excellent. I used an immersion blender and garnished with small pieces of roasted cauliflower and chives. This would be an great amuse bouche served in small glasses.
DC's P. December 6, 2018
I agree with the others who say this recipe is delicious in all its simplicity. Love this recipe.
Evelyn H. November 10, 2018
Pleasantly surprised! Followed exactly except for the use of an immersion blender
Dy October 8, 2018
I'm going to try this with an immersion blender....
SeeSee June 26, 2018
I’ve had my eye on this recipe for awhile.
Now I’m kicking myself for not trying it sooner. It is so very good in all its simplicity. Yes, you can add all the other things but if you just follow the recipe, it’s delicious! (I used a stick blender with success)
Todd F. January 9, 2018
I was skeptical that this would be flavorful enough. I also balked at what seemed to me the slow extra steps. I took only a few shortcuts (coarse onion chop, pressure lid, stick blender in pot, no rests), but must say I’m extremely impressed how creamy the texture and how each ingredient shines clear and clean. Hard to believe no dairy. A genius recipe. Use great olive oil: a real spotlight for it.
shayna December 30, 2017
I could not believe how delicious this was! We devoured it! It will be my go-to anytime I have a cauliflower "on the brink". I sprinkled a little nutritional yeast on top and my husband used some parmesan--both were great. Will definitely make many times in the future. Thanks!