Roasted Cauliflower Soup
I’m not talking about the potatoes, carrots and onions mom used to throw in to roast with a chicken or a hunk of beef (although those are certainly lovely in their way). I’m talking about treating vegetables – almost any vegetables – to a gloss of olive oil and the merest sprinkling of salt, then running them through a hot, fast oven until their natural plant sugars start to caramelize, adding a toasty sweetness to the pure, clean vegetable flavor.
Steaming used to be my default method of cooking vegetables. But since I discovered the joys of roasting them, my trusty steamer basket has been relegated to the top cupboard, the one I can’t reach without a step-ladder, where things like the waffle iron and bundt pan live.
There’s hardly a vegetable that doesn’t take well to roasting. The leafy ones, I guess – they’d pretty much just dessicate. But anything else, from root vegetables to asparagus to crucifers to eggplants, peppers and tomatoes, is wonderful roasted. OK, peas are a little fiddly unless they’re the edible-pod variety, but otherwise …
The basic method is a snap:
- Cut or break the vegetables into roughly equal-sized pieces. I usually go for “bite-sized,” except for asparagus, which I roast whole.
- Toss with just enough extra-virgin olive oil to give the vegetables a slight sheen. Less is more – the goal is to enhance the roasting process and keep the vegetables from drying out, not to render them oily. For change of pace and a bit of a tang, add a splash of balsamic vinegar, lemon juice or lime juice to the oil.
- Spread the pieces on a baking sheet in a single layer. Try not to let them touch.
- Sprinkle with a little coarse salt.
- Roast in a 350-degree oven for … as long as it takes. That’s highly dependant on the vegetable. Dense tubers (beets, potatoes, carrots) can require 20-30-minutes in the oven. Thin asparagus needs barely five minutes. Roast enough vegetables and you’ll get a feel for the timing. Meanwhile, keep an eye on things – the bottoms will brown faster than the tops, and you might want to turn the chunks over midway through the process.
That’s it: A side dish fit for a five-star restaurant, or even a main dish if you’re craving veggies.
But you can also use those roasted vegetables as an ingredient, with surprising and wonderful results.
This past weekend I picked up an adorable little cauliflower at the farmers’ market. I thought I might just snack on it raw, but our hot spell left me without much appetite all weekend. Now it’s cooling off again, and I felt like playing in the kitchen. A little of this, a little of that, and I came up with:
Roasted Cauliflower Soup with White Truffle OIl
- 1 small cauliflower, broken up to make about a cup of smallish florets. Chop the stem pieces to about the same size.
- 1 large shallot, peeled and cut into chunks about the same size as the cauliflower
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
- coarse sea salt (optional)
- 2 cups low-salt chicken stock (feel free to use flavorful vegetable stock if you’re a vegetarian)
- White truffle oil (I get mine from Trader Joe’s when I visit my sweetie in Seattle, but I’ve seen it on the shelves in the local Safeway store).
Toss cauliflower, shallots and garlic in a mixture of olive oil and vinegar until well coated. Use a slotted spoon to transfer onto a baking sheet, sprinkle very lightly with salt (or not) and roast as above for about 20 minutes, turning the vegetables halfway through the cooking.
In a saucepan, heat the stock until boiling and add the roasted vegetables, reserving a few small florets for garnish if you like. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are very tender, 10-15 minutes.
Remove from heat. Using a wand blender or food processor, puree until the vegetables are one with the liquid. Don’t expect a creamy white soup; it will be the color of good brown bread from the caramelization. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary.
Ladle into bowls and drizzle a few drops of white truffle oil on top. Float a floret on the soup. Eat with good bread. Purr.
(You can skip the truffle oil if you don’t have any, but try it sometime. Its flavor is a wonderful compliment to roasted vegetables, enhancing the toastiness.
Serves two, though it would be easy to increase the recipe to use a larger cauliflower.