Now that we’re about a week into the official Spring season, we need to have a little heart-to-heart talk about one of my favorite things and one of my least favorite things: soup and bathing suit shopping. Here in Southern California we get some warm Spring days (like we’re having right now) that make my kids want to go swimming, which requires me to take inventory of my bathing suits from last season and the pasty skin color that’s been hiding beneath the layers of my winter clothing. I dread the whole process. I don’t want to don the faded, sunscreen-stained bathing suits from last summer. And, I really don’t want to go to shopping for new suits. You have to address all sorts of issues when you try the bathing suits on like that pasty skin color and, well, let’s be frank: You need to assess what sort of a hit your body took since last summer. You know what I mean.
Assemble your ingredients. There are only five of them (not counting the salt and pepper and olive oil). Swell!
Heat up some olive oil in a heavy pot. Two tablespoons is all you need. I didn’t measure it.
Chop a small onion and add to the hot olive oil. Cook the onions but don’t let them brown.
Add in the two cloves of minced garlic and cook for a minute or two. Don’t let the garlic brown. Notice how some of my onions browned a bit? Don’t do this and remember to turn the heat down after you heated up the olive oil.
Remove the core from the cauliflower and cut the florets into pieces and then cut them again into fairly even-sized chunks.
Put the cauliflower into the pot with the onion and garlic.
Pour in the whole quart of prepared chicken stock or use homemade if you have it.
Crank up the heat and bring to a boil. I know it doesn’t look very good at this point, but it will.
Cover and reduce heat to simmer.
While the cauliflower cooks, grate a cup of Parmesan cheese. You need to use fresh Parmesan and if you can swing the Reggiano, I recommend it.
Take about 1/2 cup and place it in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat to melt it. Keep your eye on it.
As the cheese begins to melt and lightly brown, begin lifting the edges up. Once you’ve got the color you want, turn off the heat and allow the cheese crisp to cool slightly and carefully remove it from the pan.
Allow the cheese to cool on a piece of foil. Since I was making this soup for myself, I only made one crisp. You need approximately 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan for each crisp of this size. Once the crisps have completely cooled, break them in half and use one for each bowl of soup. Or double the amount of Parmesan and give yourself the full-sized crisp.
Check the cauliflower after 15 minutes. You want it to be soft and easily broken up…you know…like celebrity marriages these days. If the cauliflower is soft, turn off the heat. Blend everything together. Go easy. You don’t want to splatter the hot liquid on yourself. Alternatively, you could use a blender or food processor and mix it in batches. I, however, like to have reasons to buy new kitchen gadgets. And I really recommend this one.
It takes a few minutes of lifting the immersion blender in and out of the soup to really get the cauliflower to break down.
There. You may want to stir the soup up to be sure you don’t have any chunks of cauliflower hanging around on the bottom. I don’t mind a little texture here and there, so it’s really up to you.
Add in the remainder of the Parmesan Cheese.
Stir it in by hand. Do not use the immersion blender.
Add the salt and pepper and pinch of nutmeg.
Taste for seasonings. On the spoon is a little of the texture I mentioned earlier. I’m okay with it.
So before the weather really warms up, I want you to make this soup. It is super easy, tasty and very figure-friendly. It’s creamy without adding any cream, and the crispy Parmesan is delicious. You won’t feel guilty about having seconds, and you’ll be thanking me all the way to the bathing suit shop!
Silky Cauliflower Soup with Parmesan Crisps
Serves 4 to 6
For the soup:
1 head cauliflower
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart low-sodium chicken stock
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Green onion or chives for garnish
For the crisps:
1 cup grated Parmesan
Remove the leaves and thick core from the cauliflower. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. Cook until softened, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until the cauliflower is very soft and falling apart, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and using a hand held immersion blender, puree the soup (or puree in small batches in a blender* and return it to the pot). Add the Parmesan and stir until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper and pinch of nutmeg. Keep warm until ready to serve.
Meanwhile, make the Parmesan crisps. Take 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese and place in a small non-stick skillet. Spread cheese into a even layer. The finer you grate the cheese, the thicker the layer should be. If you coarsely shred the cheese with a box grater, you should make a thinner layer. Turn burner to medium heat and watch closely until cheese completely melts and turns a golden brown. Immediately remove from heat and let sit for a minute then carefully remove to cool on foil or parchment paper. Repeat process for remaining crisps.
Garnish each soup bowl with crisps and green onion or chives. Serve immediately because the crisps will begin to soften once in the warm soup.
* When blending hot liquids, remove liquid from heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to blender or food processor and fill it no more than half way. With a blender, cover lid with a dishtowel, release one edge of the lid so the hot vapor can escape without causing an explosion and pulse a few times then process on high until smooth. Repeat until all is blended.
(Recipe adapted from David Lieberman)