Driving through a thick mist of fog this morning, I think of soup. The air is crisp beyond the car and I can’t quite be sure that the sun will really creep in and overcome the haze. If it does, it will dance playfully off the colors of the leaves, bringing them to life with a warm, gentle glow. A shot of steam will also rise as the heat hits the morning dew; just as it would from a bowl of thick soup. I think of cauliflower soup. This matches my mood right now; colorless but complex. The bright golds and oranges of the leaves peak out from beneath the thickness of the white air that envelops them. It reminds me of chanterelles…and….perhaps squash, but mostly chanterelles. Vibrant and intense amongst a neutral backdrop yet neutral themselves when nestled into their true surroundings.
I will flavor my soup with leeks and purée it until it is smooth and creamy. Yet I will use no cream. I will thicken it with a single potato instead; just enough so as not to overpower the nutty bitter notes that I am craving from the cauliflower.
The cauliflower will first be roasted to deepen it’s earthiness, then finished in a bath of simmering stock. The stock will be made using the carcass left from my recently roasted chicken along with the stray vegetables begging to be released from the crisper drawer, and the empty corn cob sitting on the shelf above.
I will pick the dirt carefully from the chanterelles and leave them whole to show off their bobbly shape. They will be slipped into a pan waiting with just enough oil to keep them from becoming dismantled by sticking to the pan. The heat will be low so as to coax out the flavor, intensified by the slightest additions of salt. Before they begin to discolor and droop, I will squeeze in some juice from the cut lemon that is often near my stove and if the mood strikes me I will douse them with Madeira to flavor them softly before evaporating into the air.
Argan oil will replace truffle because I can taste the flavor as I think of this soup and know that it’s oddly unusual flavor will compliment the cauliflower without becoming too prominent.
CAULIFLOWER SOUP – garnished with chanterelles and lady apple
I wanted a velvety, pure soup so I took a few extra steps that aren’t necessary if your goal is to make a quick soup. In it’s thicker state, it is delicious as an accompaniment to steak or fish (which I actually used on Friday’s steak night, think – substitute for mash potatoes), which technically makes it a purée rather than a soup I suppose. The next day, I completed the process of making the actual soup, by adding some water, putting it through my food mill, then pressing it through my chinois. If you choose to go this route, push as much of it through as you can. You will be left with a thin soup which can go pack to the pan to be simmered gently. It will thicken and become even more aromatic until it reaches your desired consistency.
When it comes to garnishing, there are so many options. I had my heart set on chanterelles and squash but when I didn’t find zucchini squash at the market, I settled on lady apple instead (a very small apple that seems like it would be tart but is actually quite sweet). In the end I decided to dice both the mushrooms and the apple, leaving only one small mushroom whole. I had a tangerine in my fruit bowl and decided to add a little of it’s zest. The apple and the zest lent a bright flavor that awakened my tongue and immediately made me smile.
1 head cauliflower, outer leaves removed, sliced in half lengthwise and large stem discarded.
Olive oil to brush over cauliflower (or surplus juices/fat left from roast chicken).
1 medium small gold potato, cut into quarters and simmered in salted water until tender, drained and set aside (alternatively, you could replace the chicken stock using the water from cooking the potato).
Olive oil for sautéing
Chanterelles – pick ones you like the shape of for garnish. One medium per person or several small depending on what’s available or what you find most interesting.
A tiny bit of sea salt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Splash of Madeira, optional
Olive oil – just enough to coat the pan
1 1/2 leeks, removed of the tough ends, cut in half down the length and rinsed of the dirt hidden between each layer. Cut horizontally into slices.
3 cups (+/-) chicken or vegetable stock – if you don’t have time to make stock or don’t want to bother, do try to buy a good quality stock and know that the seasonings will need adjusted up or down depending on salt content and flavor depth of the stock used, homemade or otherwise. Water can also be substituted; the soup will have less depth but the color will be more white and pure. The quantity of liquid will need adjusting as it cooks so use your judgement.
The juice of one lemon
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup plain yogurt – optional
Lady apple and tangerine zest for garnish
A drizzle of Argan oil, optional
BRUSH the cauliflower with fat and roast in a 400 degree oven until fragrant, browned and tender, approximately 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, while the cauliflower is roasting, COOK OFF the chanterelles by slowly sweating them in the olive oil over low heat, approximately 5-7 minutes. TOSS in a small pinch of sea salt midway through. When the chanterelles have started to relax and settle in, SQUEEZE in the lemon. Continue cooking until the juice dissipates, which will happen quickly. ADD the Madeira, if using, it too will absorb into the mushrooms and quickly disappear. SET THESE ASIDE.
In a medium Dutch oven, softly sauté the leeks over low heat in the olive oil until beginning to wilt, 5 minutes or so. ADD THE CAULIFLOWER, potato and the stock (or water) to the pot; squeeze in the juice of the lemon.
LET SIMMER until the flavors merge, another 10-15 minutes. TRANSFER to a food processor or blender and PURÉE, adding more stock if it is too thick. Return to the pan and adjust seasonings. STIR in the yogurt (I didn’t have any so no yogurt in mine).
To make the soup extra velvety as I did, pass it through a food mill
then put into a chinois, pressing as much of the solids through as you can. It will be creamy but thin so to thicken it, return to the pan and simmer gently.
As the soup simmers, REHEAT the mushrooms and then DICE all but the ones you plan to leave whole. DICE enough of the apple to yield approximately 1 TB for each person.
LADLE the soup into hot bowls or cups then carefully SPOON the mushrooms first, then the apple into the center of each bowl. They will sink into the liquid; top with the whole mushroom and garnish with a few thin slices of apple if you wish. Grate in a little orange or tangerine zest, drizzle the oil around the edge and serve immediately.