Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cauliflower Cream Soup with Browned Butter & Pink Peppercorns

Serves 4-6


1 large head cauliflower (about 2 – 3 pounds)
1/2 stick, plus 1/2 stick butter
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
kosher salt, to taste
about 1 Tbl pink peppercorns, crushed
about 1 tsp pink sea salt, to taste (optional)

Cut off the stem and green leaves from the head of cauliflower.  Break the head into small flowerets.  Reserve about 1/2 cup of especially pretty flowerets for the garnish.

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a medium soup pot.  Add the chopped onion, the cauliflower flowerets and about 1/2 cup water.  Season with a generous pinch or two of salt.  Cook slowly over low-medium heat, for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and not allowing the vegetables to brown.  (Keep the lid off.)  Add enough water to just cover the vegetables and simmer over medium heat until tender, about 25-30 minutes. 
Remove from the heat, and allow to cool about fifteen minutes.  Blend the soup in batches, running the blender on high for about a minute and a half for each batch, until the soup is incredibly smooth.  Strain through a fine mesh sieve **.  At this point, the soup can be reheated and finished, or can be cooled and refrigerated in an air-tight container, until ready to serve. 

To make brown butter: Add 1/2 stick butter to a small sauce pan.  (A pan light in color will help you see the degree of browning, so don’t use a dark-bottomed pan, if you can help it.)  Over medium heat, and stirring or swirling occasionally, cook until the butter solids that fall to the bottom of the pan begin to brown, the liquid butter takes on a deep golden hue and the aroma is rich and nutty.  This will take about 5-8 minutes, or so.  Be careful not to cook too long, or the butter will burn and turn black. Remove from the heat and transfer to a heat-proof container.  At this point, the butter can be refrigerated in an air-tight container, and re-melted when needed.  Will hold about two weeks. 

When ready to serve: Add the strained soup to a clean soup pot.  Reheat over medium-high heat.  Add the heavy cream and stir to combine.  Taste and season with kosher salt.  Taste again and season with more salt if needed.  This is such a simple soup – All its success lies in it being properly seasoned.  Keep tasting and keep salting until the flavor just pops.  This is a hard concept to explain - You don’t want it to be salty, but you need enough salt to make the flavors really sing.   

To prepare garnish: As the soup reheats, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat and add about 1 Tbl melted browned butter.  Add the reserved cauliflower flowerets, season with a little sprinkle of salt (pink, if that’s what you’re using) and a pinch of pink peppercorns.  Sauté about five minutes, then add about 1 Tbl water.  Cook until cauliflower is tender, adding a little bit of water, as needed, so that they do not brown too much. 

To finish the soup:  Ladle hot soup into serving bowl.  Drizzle each with about 1-2 tsp melted brown butter.  Carefully arrange about 1 Tbl sautéed cauliflower flowerets in the center of each bowl, then sprinkle with a pinch of crushed pink peppercorns and a small pinch of pink sea salt, if using.

* I was totally wishing I had some pink sea salt on hand when I made this soup!  There was even some way up on the top shelf in my kitchen, just waiting for a good excuse to be used, but I was out of town.  Shoot!
** To achieve supremely smooth soups, a really, really fine mesh sieve is a must.  Without one on hand, I don’t think I’ve even bother with pureed soups.  I know it’s one more thing to add to your already-too-crowded kitchen cupboards, but it definitely makes a huge difference!  (Cheesecloth can work well too, but that can be such a messy bother.)




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