My Perfect Winter Comfort Food

by Elizabeth on January 22, 2014

photo 4 Cook’s Illustrated makes me giddy. It combines two of the things I love: food and science. I haven’t talked a lot about my geeked-out science passion because, as odd as it sounds, I’m just putting it together myself.

This isn’t the first time I’ve sung the praises of Cook’s Illustrated (CI). As I see it, their recipes are perfection for two reasons. First, their recipe development team is comprised of all star chefs and scientists. Second, before going to print, each recipe is tested and tweaked up to 50 times by both professional and home cooks alike.

 

photo (9)

Apologies for the cryptic photo. It was the only one I had of the cooking process and I only include it because you can sort of see the cauliflower slices, a concept I had a hard time envisioning when I first read the recipe.

I’ve had the CI cauliflower soup bookmarked for awhile and finally got around to making it last night. It involves a few extra steps but the ingredient list is short so I found it didn’t take longer than your average weeknight soup. And the extra steps are SO worth it. The result is complex, rich and perfectly balanced. It tastes decadent – I think it would be a great starter for a dinner party – but with the added bonus of being cream-free and healthy. (Yes, there is butter. But I used less than the original recipe called for and don’t think it detracted from the end result). The real explanation behind the creamy texture is where the science comes in. Most vegetables have both soluble and insoluble fiber (ie fiber that doesn’t break down in your body or in the blender) and many contain higher percentages of the latter. Comparatively, cauliflower has a lot of soluble fiber (about 50%) so that means that a large percentage can be truly pureed in the cooking process, rendering a smooth, velvety quality. Here’s a list of the fiber contents of common foods. An added bonus is that this soup is a tad more nutritious than your standard variety as a result of the par-cooked cauliflower that’s incorporated (less cooking time = higher retention of nutrients). Ok enough talking, here is the recipe.

 

Cook’s Illustrated Cauliflower Soup Recipe

SERVES 4 TO 6

White wine vinegar may be substituted for the sherry vinegar. Be sure to thoroughly trim the cauliflower’s core of green leaves and leaf stems, which can be fibrous and contribute to a grainy texture in the soup.

 

INGREDIENTS

1 head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
*8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces (I used about 6)
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced thin, and washed thoroughly
1 small onion, halved and sliced thin
Salt and pepper
4 1/2 – 5 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives

 

INSTRUCTIONS

*see notes below

1.Pull off outer leaves of cauliflower and trim stem. Using paring knife, cut around core to remove; thinly slice core and reserve. Cut heaping 1 cup of 1/2-inch florets from head of cauliflower; set aside. Cut remaining cauliflower crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices.

2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter (I used 2) in large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leek, onion, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt; cook, stirring frequently, until leek and onion are softened but not browned, about 7 minutes.

3. Increase heat to medium-high; add 4 1/2 cups water, sliced core, and half of sliced cauliflower; and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add remaining sliced cauliflower, return to simmer, and continue to cook until cauliflower is tender and crumbles easily, 15 to 20 minutes longer.

4. While soup simmers, melt remaining 5 tablespoons butter (I used 4) in 8-inch skillet over medium heat. Add reserved florets and cook, stirring frequently, until florets are golden brown and butter is browned and imparts nutty aroma, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and use slotted spoon to transfer florets to small bowl. Toss florets with vinegar and season with salt to taste. Pour browned butter in skillet into small bowl and reserve for garnishing.

5. Process soup in blender until smooth, about 45 seconds. Rinse out pan. Return pureed soup to pan and return to simmer over medium heat, adjusting consistency with remaining water as needed (soup should have thick, velvety texture but should be thin enough to settle with flat surface after being stirred) and seasoning with salt to taste. Serve, garnishing individual bowls with browned florets, drizzle of browned butter, and chives and seasoning with pepper to taste.

*MY NOTES
*I used an immersion blender and recommend it – less clean up!
*Using the immersion blender, I found I needed to blend for more than 45 seconds, about twice as long.
*A vegetable peeler has become an essential when I’m working with cauliflower. It makes the removal of the little brown spots (these are caused by moisture and are harmless) that you’ll inevitably find on cauliflower so much easier.

 

*CI NOTES
VARY COOKING TIME TO COAX OUT CAULIFLOWER’S DIFFERENT FLAVORS
While developing our recipe for cauliflower soup, we discovered that cauliflower’s flavor changes dramatically depending on how long you cook it. Shorter cooking times bring out its cabbagelike flavors, while longer cooking times turn it nuttier and sweet. Too much cooking drives off all its flavor. To bring the full spectrum of possible flavors into our soup, we cooked some of the cauliflower for 15 minutes and the remainder for 30 minutes.

Printable Version of Recipe

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