Heat in a large skillet over medium heat:
3 tablespoons olive oil
Add and brown lightly:
24 pearl onions, peeled
We were recently asked to cook a fundraiser dinner for 18 people. While that’s straightforward enough (no one’s calling it “easy,” but straightforward, yes), there were quite a few food allergies in the group, plus one vegan guest.
Living in Portland, accommodating folks with food allergies is really par for the course (cue the Portlandia “Allergy Parade” sketch). And really, it’s not a big deal. When you cook for people, you want to make them happy. Sometimes that means being creative and avoiding certain foods, which is really a great exercise for a cook.
How easy is it to make food taste good with loads of butter and cream and bacon? Pretty easy. But it’s a little more of a challenge to make delicious, satisfying, and elegant food without any of those traditional enrichments.
Thankfully, there’s cauliflower. Originally, I thought of making a cream of cauliflower soup. I figured the cauliflower would be pretty creamy when pureed, but that I might have to add a substitute for. But then I had a little brainwave (that happens all too seldom, unfortunately!). I decided to try making a cream of cauliflower soup without anything extra for creaminess—just a little olive oil, some leeks, cauliflower, and vegetable broth.
Wow. Just wow. This is one of those more-than-the-sum-of-its-parts recipes. The soup turned out creamy, rich-tasting, and pretty much perfect on the first try. That most certainly does not happen every day. After the first test, I tried roasting the cauliflower first, which turned out even better. It’s an extra step that you can totally skip if time is an issue. I think the roasting step really adds something special, but the soup is still excellent without it.
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Toss together on a large sheet pan:
1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), trimmed and cut into florets
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Roast until the edges of the florets are quite brown, about 30 minutes.
Heat in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat:
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
Add and sauté until softened:
1 large leek, trimmed, cleaned, and thinly sliced
Add the roasted cauliflower along with:
4 cups vegetable broth*
Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Puree in a blender until velvety smooth. Return to the soup pot and season with salt to taste. Add more vegetable broth or water if needed to thin the soup to the desired consistency.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Serve the soup drizzled with the paprika oil.
*Homemade vegetable broth is great if you have some around. If not, we like Better Than Bouillon. It has a better flavor than other store-bought vegetable broths we’ve tried. Be aware that it is salty, so you probably won’t need to add any extra salt to the soup.
Make it faster: You can skip the roasting step and simply simmer the cauliflower florets in the vegetable broth until very tender.
A garlicky twist: One person who tried this recipe threw a head of garlic in the oven while she roasted the cauliflower and pureed the softened garlic with the cauliflower. I think this is a completely fabulous idea! If you've never roasted garlic before, it's super easy and makes the most delicious soft, mellow garlic substance known to man. Simply cut the top third off an entire head of garlic to expose the cloves inside. Place the garlic on a doubled piece of tin foil, drizzle it liberally with olive oil, then close the packet tightly around the garlic. Roast until the cloves are meltingly soft--at 425F that should take about 30 to 40 minutes.
A non-vegan variation: While I don’t think this soup needs any dairy at all, it would be delicious garnished with smoked paprika brown butter instead of olive oil. Simply brown a little butter, then remove from the heat and stir in the smoked paprika.