You can probably guess that my favorite soups contains one or more of the following: bacon (or similar smoked meat/sausage), cream, and/or cheese. If I’m sick and you want to make me feel better, I’ll welcome a steaming hot bowl of creamy lobster bisque. If you bring me chicken noodle soup, I’ll just poke around the noodles trying to find some sausage, and when I can’t find any, I’ll just get mad. Then I’ll be mad and sick, and no one wins.
The glaring exception to my Declaration of Required Soup Ingredients is the humble pureed vegetable soup. It doesn’t need cream, it doesn’t need meat. It just has to be seasoned perfectly with salt and pepper, and be served with a bread basket the size of my face.
Have I thrown you a curve ball? Moi, the Food Hound, eschewing a creamy soup in favor of something that is little more than vegetables and broth? It’s ok. I keep the Booze Hound in a perpetual state of confusion. It’s part of my charm.
Pureed soup is definitely more of a European thing than an American thing. I was introduced to the single-vegetable pureed soup at one of the fledgling ‘Le Pain Quotidien’ locations in Brussels (now a world-wide bakery/cafe phenomenon) when I lived there, and I became hooked. The key is that you have to use the highest quality ingredients, season appropriately with salt and pepper, and serve it with crusty bread (preferably with a large chunk of European butter for your spreading pleasure). Sometimes you finish the soup with some cream, sometimes you don’t. If done right, it doesn’t matter… and for me to say that is a glowing endorsement because I love heavy cream to the moon and back.
So, let’s get down to the business of this cauliflower soup. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it has a lovely texture after it’s blended into submission. Cauliflower has the unique ability to take on a creamy consistency once pureed, so this is one of those soups that doesn’t need cream or cheese… though if you wanted to add either one, they would get along with the cauliflower like a house on fire. I added a dusting of parm for a sharp, salty punch. Oh, yes.
Obviously, I want to feel as French as possible every second of every day, and eating this soup is a little passport to Paris since cauliflower is a tres popular vegetable there. BUT… I can’t truly feel like a native unless my bowl of soup is accompanied by a mound of bread. Crusty baguette is a fan favorite for any meal, any time, but the delicate flavor of cauliflower soup lends itself splendidly to a mound of garlic butter croutons. So… mound them I did!
If they give out awards for ‘Best Food Ideas in 2013,’ I should be nominated for that one. Or at least ‘Most Garlic Butter Croutons in One Bowl of Soup.’
If seeing a big bowl of white soup topped with white croutons makes you twitch and yearn for more color, a good idea from Mardi at Eat, Live, Travel, Write is to add carrots for a bright, lovely orange-tinged soup. Or you could turn all of your croutons crust-side-up for some contrast. (You know that’s more fun!!)
Despite my penchant for gloriously rich food, a simple pureed vegetable soup will always have a place in my heart. Call it nostalgia for my early days in Belgium, call it taking advantage of seasonal produce in the most seasonal way, or call it trying to fit garlic butter croutons into my life as much as possible. Whatever you call it, a bowl full of this will warm your belly and your soul.
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 T butter
- 2 large onions, coarsely chopped (about ¾ lb)
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 3 celery stalks, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 thyme sprigs, leaves only
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 head cauliflower, leaves removed, broken into florets (discard the tough core)
- 6 cups best-quality chicken or vegetable stock
- ½ lb rustic bread (about half of a large loaf) cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 stick (8 T) butter
- 2 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 1 t salt
- Heat the olive oil and butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat until the butter melts. Add the onions, garlic, celery, thyme, ½ t salt and ½ t pepper. Stir until all the ingredients are coated in the butter mixture, then cover the pot and cook slowly, stirring often, for about 20 minutes.
- Toss the cauliflower into the pot and pour in the broth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so the broth simmers gently, and cook, uncovered, for another 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very soft.
- While the cauliflower is simmering, melt 1 stick of butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once melted, add the 2 cloves of smashed garlic, raise the heat to medium, and cook, stirring and smashing the garlic occasionally, until the butter is fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and discard the garlic. Place bread cubes in a large bowl, and drizzle with the garlic butter. Toss well, and spread in a single layer on a large sheet pan. Sprinkle with 1 t salt, and bake until the croutons are a deep, golden brown, about 15-17 minutes.
- Puree the soup in batches in a blender, or use an immersion blender (my pick). Return to the Dutch oven over low heat, and season to taste with salt and pepper (I added an additional ½ t salt and ½ t pepper. Serve hot topped with garlic butter croutons.