Something I've learned about restaurant chefs: many of them cook the same few dishes, again and again, over and over. Sheer repetition means "nailing" the muscle memory of technique and the sensory cues of color, smell, texture, touch. If practice makes perfect, there's a reason that restaurant chefs are good at what they do.
We home cooks, if we make the one same thing once a week, it's a lot, especially if we are curious cooks who for fun are ever expanding our recipe repertoire. Me, right now I make only two things every week, although in fact, every day. Creamy Oatmeal in the Microwave with Peanut Butter. Quick 'n' Easy Raw Salad. But repetition means I have nailed these "recipes".
That's why a recipe from Food 52 first caught my attention: the technique was interesting! My own long-time recipe for Quick Cauliflower Soup (and its broccoli counterpart) is all about putting fresh, hot and wholesome food on the table fast, 25 minutes, start to finish, with time to set the table, empty the dishwasher and make a quick salad or sandwich to make alongside.
Food 52's recipe is an adaptation of a recipe from Paul Bertolli, who spent 20 years at Alice Waters' famous Chez Panisse and has now founded Fra'Mani, a source of hand-crafted foods. It may be the slow-food version of cauliflower soup. The recipe is more leisurely, it strolls along, taking time and deliberation to draw out flavor and texture. It uses more oil than my recipe but not the usual restaurant-level ratio of oil:food.
And it's good, really good.
RECIPE for NO-CREAM CREAMY CAULIFLOWER SOUP
Time to table: 1 hour
Makes 8 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped roughly
1 large head cauliflower, outer leaves removed, core removed and chopped, how to cut up a whole head of cauliflower
1/2 cup water or chicken stock
Kosher salt, to taste
4 cups water or chicken stock
1/2 cup hot water or hot chicken stock
To taste, salt and freshly ground pepper
For eye appeal, a scattering of fresh herbs, optional
SWEAT THE ONIONS In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil on MEDIUM until shimmery, add the onion and stir well to coat with fat. Cook gently, stirring occasionally, letting the onions cook without turning brown. (An extra tip? This technique is called "sweating" the onions. Now you know!)
BRAISE THE CAULIFLOWER Stir in the cauliflower, 1/2 cup water or stock and a little salt. Cover and let cook until the cauliflower is tender, about 20 minutes.
ADD MORE WATER Stir in 4 cups water or stock, cover and bring back to a simmer, let cook until cauliflower is fall-apart tender and fully cooked, about 20 minutes.
PURÉE In batches, transfer the soup to a blender and purée until smooth. PLEASE, for important safety tips with hot liquids and blenders, read Hot Liquids & Blenders. Return to the pot.
LET REST Off heat, let the soup stand for 20 minutes, it should thicken slightly.
FINISH Stir in the hot water or stock and bring the soup back to temperature.
SERVE & SAVOR To serve, season with salt and pepper. Transfer to individual serving bowls, scatter with fresh herbs.
ALANNA's TIPS & KITCHEN NOTES
I made this soup twice, once with water and once with good Homemade Chicken Stock. Both were wonderful, the one with water was a wonderful clear white color, the one with chicken stock was darker. Taste-wise, both were great.
The first time, I followed the instructions for a 20-minute rest time. Was it worth it? I didn't find any change in the soup after the wait so the second time, skipped the rest period. But I include it, in deference to the chef who has "nailed" technique.
An immersion blender would do the trick, I think, with no trouble, although without the ultra creaminess that a blender can achieve.
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