I am inordinately proud of this soup. It is perfect Unfussy Epicure fare – extremely simple to make and stunningly delicious. It’s just a variation on roasted cauliflower soup, a cold-weather staple that I’ve made with curry, with potatoes, with garlic. But this variation is so easy, so elegant, and makes such an incredible difference in the flavor that it’s like a whole new soup.
What is this variation, you ask? It is simply this: Instead of breaking the cauliflower into florets before roasting, slice it. Really, that’s it. In the past I always broke the head into florets, tossed them with olive oil, and roasted them in a casserole dish. Then one evening last week, on a whim, I sliced the head into “steaks” – cauliflower “steaks” are totally a thing for people looking for light or vegan center-of-the-plate alternatives, and they’re really not bad – and laid them on a cookie sheet, drizzled with plenty of olive oil. Then I kind of forgot about them and let them roast a long time. While I was wandering around the house doing who-knows-what, the flat sides of the cauliflower in contact with the cookie sheet got really gorgeously browned and packed with flavor.
Then I tossed them in a pot with some chicken broth, simmered them for about five minutes, and pureed the whole thing in a blender. That’s it! That’s the whole recipe. It does take a while, but only because of the time needed for the cauliflower to get really deeply, beautifully brown. The hands-on time is only about 10 minutes. And the dividends returned from that investment of time in the oven are astronomical.
This soup is truly luxurious. Both rich and light in texture, with an incredibly deep, rich flavor from the cauliflower’s intense caramelization, this is soup you’d be happy to pay big bucks for in a classy restaurant.
If you want to get really fancy, I’ve provided a recipe for simple croutons to sprinkle on top of each bowl of soup. But it really doesn’t need them, and you could even argue that they distract from the soup’s simple perfection. If you don’t want the crunch, or just don’t have the time or desire, a drizzle of olive oil – or just a sprinkle of black pepper – is all this elegant soup requires.
Browned Cauliflower Soup
Serves: 2 to 3 (doubles easily) Time: 45 to 75 minutes Hands-on: 10 minutes
1 medium (1.5 lb) head cauliflower
3-4 tablespoons well-flavored olive oil, plus more for garnish if desired
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
Heat oven to 450 degrees.
Remove any green leaves from the cauliflower. Slice the head from top to bottom into four slices. Some of them may fall apart a little bit; that’s fine. Place on a cookie sheet, flat sides up. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, flip, and drizzle with the remaining oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add the unpeeled garlic clove to the baking sheet.
Place the cauliflower in the oven and roast 25 minutes. Check the underside; you want it very brown. It probably won’t be there yet. If not, return to the oven and continue to roast, checking every 5 minutes or so, until it is deeply caramelized. This may take up to 40 minutes total.
Flip the cauliflower to the second side; remove the garlic clove from the cookie sheet and set aside. Roast another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cauliflower’s second side is also well browned.
In a medium pot, combine the browned cauliflower and the broth. Peel the garlic clove and add it too. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let cool for a minute or two.
Process in a blender until very smooth. Return to the pot and warm to serving temperature. If it seems too thick, thin it with a bit of water or broth to the consistency you prefer. Ladle into warm bowls, drizzling with oil and topping with croutons, if desired. Serve hot.
3 1/4-inch-thick slices bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
Ground black pepper
Cut the bread into 1/4-inch cubes. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in a 9×9 (or similar size) baking dish, and place in the oven with the cauliflower. Check after 15 minutes. If they’re not crisp and golden brown, toss and return to oven, checking about every 5 minutes until they’re done to your liking. Remove from oven and set aside until needed. They will crisp further as they cool.