Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Happy New Year: Rachael Ray's Cauliflower Soup

So we're back from Lake Placid after a whirlwind of holiday gatherings, skiing, and a last ditch New Year's party that really rocked to ring in 2008! I can't believe that I know people who have a complete dance floor and DJ setup in their basement! After ten days on the road, needless to say there was really no food in the fridge except a few onions and an anemic looking head of cauliflower. In fact "dinner" on New Year's Eve after a nine hour drive home from Lake Placid and before heading out to a party (yes, that would be after the nine hour drive) was a Freschetta frozen spinach and mushroom pizza which really wasn't bad actually.

But today, New Year's Day I was back in my own kitchen--not exactly well rested as I'm an inveterate early riser regardless of when I go to bed at 3:00 a.m.-- with my own utensils feeling eager to whip something up and I remembered Rachael Ray's cauliflower soup. A quick perusal of the recipe and the only ingredients missing were celery and milk, both of which I consider optional in this instance actually. This is a soup I love to make with cauliflower from the farmers market usually. I swear when you smell the cauliflower being sauteed you'll think you discovered some new vegetable, such is the difference between the farmers market produce and what is sold at the grocery store. In fact making this soup the first time with a huge head of cauliflower from the framers market, I fell in love with cauliflower as though I was tasting it for the first time. The soup was immediately incorporated into my Thanksgiving menu as an appetizer folks could serve themselves while waiting for the main event.

Seeing as I also had some leftover white wine, I used it in place of the milk to deglaze the pan before adding the chicken stock (which I make every couple of months and have on hand as concentrated frozen cubes in the freezer). I wish I'd had a bigger head of cauliflower because after we served ourselves for lunch there were just about two cups of the soup left, which is half as much as I usually freeze whenever I make soup from scratch so that the next time the fridge is empty I can just defrost a homemade soup from the freezer. Anyway, here is Rachael's soup with my embellishments:

Cauliflower Soup, by Rachael Ray
  • Coarse salt and coarse black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons butter (or use EVOO)
  • 2 small heads cauliflower, or 1 large, cut into small bunches of florets (Don't worry about the florets, just core the cauliflower head and chop it up into a rough 3/4 inch dice)
    3 ribs celery and leafy tops from the heart of stalk, finely chopped (optional as far as I'm concerned)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves (I'm too lazy to strip leaves off thyme when making a dish like soup, so I just tied the sprigs together and tossed them into the soup. most of th leaves will fall of the sprigs and then you just remove the bundle before pureeing)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 quart vegetable stock (I used chicken stock)
  • ¾ cup white wine (my addition)
  • 1 cup half-and-half or whole milk (optional, IMHO)
  • Hot sauce, optional (I cut up a fresh jalapeno and sauteed it with the veggies)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves or chives, for garnish (any chopped fresh herbs such as chives, thyme, oregano can be used as a garnish in any dish really)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, for passing at the table, optional (I didn't add any cheese)
  • sour cream (my option as a garnish, a tablespoon of which I stirred into the hot soup to add creaminess)

In a large pot, heat up the olive oil and/or 2 tablespoons of the butter, over medium heat. Add the cauliflower and stir with a wooden spoon. Add celery, onion (jalapeno if using) and thyme and cook for 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Push the vegetables to 1 side of the pot. Melt 1 more tablespoon of butter in an empty area of the pot and add flour to the butter. Cook for 1 minute, stirring the flour in the butter. Deglaze the pan with the white wine scraping up the delicious brown caramelized bits on the bottom of the pot. Mix in chicken broth (and half-and-half if using). Bring up to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Puree soup using an immersion blender, food processor or blender and return to pot. Rachael likes to leave it a little chunky. Check seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.

Garnish soup as desired with chopped herbs, sour cream, or grated cheese. Enjoy!

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