Creamy Creamless Cauliflower Soup

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Sometimes it takes a person’s wild enthusiasm to get you to try a recipe that doesn’t immediately jump off the page. Take, for example, Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup. After I declared my love for cauliflower in this Cauliflower Casserole post, a commenter named Eliza said, “If you love cauliflower, you should try Paul Bertolli’s Cauliflower Soup, especially with the spring crop of cauliflower beginning to show up in the farmers markets. This soup is rich, creamy (without any cream) yet fresh tasting. Only 4 ingredients – olive oil, onion, cauliflower and water – make magic.” The recipe didn’t sell me, but Eliza did. So I tried it.

As Eliza says, there are only four ingredients. It starts simply enough by sweating onions in olive oil.

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The goal here is to go slow and not to brown the onions. While that’s happening, you can cut your cauliflower into florets.

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By the time you’ve done that, your onions will be translucent and you can add the cauliflower to the pot with a pinch of salt and a splash of water.

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You cover the pot for 15 minutes and cook until the cauliflower can be pierced with a knife. Then you add 4 1/2 cups water, a little more salt, and cook 20 more minutes uncovered. From there, it goes into the blender:

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You blend in batches until you have a clean white puree. And that’s pretty much it. I poured it back into the pot and tasted.

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I have to confess, I was skeptical at first. How good could onions, cauliflower and water taste? But just like Eliza, I was dazzled. The most surprising thing is the texture: it’s so creamy and velvety and smooth, you’d swear that at some point someone snuck into your kitchen, drugged you, poured a quart of cream into your blender, and woke you up just as it finished blending. But no, it’s just creamy because that’s what happens when you cook cauliflower in water and blend it.

As you’ll see in the next post, I served the soup cold so I could top it with flowers. But the soup is wonderful hot too. It’s an exercise in simplicity that’s surprisingly complex. Thanks, Eliza, for pointing me to a great recipe.

Recipe: Creamy Creamless Cauliflower Soup

Summary: From Paul Bertolli by way of Food52 and Eliza.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 1 head cauliflower (1 1/2 pounds) cut into florets (you don’t have to be fanatical about size since it all blends up later)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 5 1/2 cups water, divided
  • Finishing olive oil (if you have a nicer one to drizzle on top)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a pot on medium heat. Add the onions, a pinch of salt, and lower the heat to the lowest setting you can. Cook slowly, stirring the onions every so often, making sure they don’t turn brown. If you’re worried about that, you could add a tiny splash of water. They should cook for 15 minutes (or until translucent).
  2. Add the cauliflower, salt again, and 1/2 cup water. Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot and stew the cauliflower for 15 to 18 minutes, stirring every so often. This step is done when you can pierce the cauliflower easily with a knife.
  3. At that point, add 4 1/2 cups hot water (make sure it’s hot so you don’t stop the cooking process; I warmed mine in a tea kettle), another pinch of salt, and bring to a low simmer, cooking for 20 more minutes.
  4. Pour the mixture in batches into a blender and blend. (Be careful to leave an opening at the top of the blender that you cover with a kitchen towel as it blends; if you cover it fully, the top might blow off as you’ve probably seen happen on TOP CHEF.) When the soup is fully blended, return it to the pot.
  5. Taste, adjust for salt, then let stand for 20 minutes. It will thicken. At that point, you can thin it out with 1/2 cup of hot water, but I didn’t do that. You can either serve it now, drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper, or chill it and serve it cold. It’s great either way.

Preparation time: 20 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s) 10 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 6

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