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Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Back to the Soup Pot: Rustic Cheesy Cauliflower

The humble cruciform beginning

Heady with the success of my savory sweet potato pie, and with a big, beautiful cauliflower head on hand (the grocery store was all out of broccoli the last time we went), once again I began searching for something new and interesting to make in the kitchen. And once again, each recipe I found was not quite, not exactly, what I had in mind. But I had already uttered the fateful words “cauliflower” and “cheese,” and the Artist was all ears. Could we please call it cheesy cauliflower? And could we have it tonight? So with ideas gleaned from various recipes and a picture in mind of the final result I wanted, I set to work in the Arizona ghost town version (much roomier) of my tiny Michigan farmhouse Paris kitchen.

Not really a secret, is it?

Here is a not-very-secret “secret” I’ve shared before in this blog: Better than Bouillon. I grew up in a household that used a lot of bouillon cubes, and I’ve gone through plenty of them in my adult life, too, but BTB (as I call it for short on my shopping lists) was a revelation, and once I brought that first jar home, there was no going back to the cubes. So stocking up the cupboards for a possible quarantine — and already, now, for a lot of staying home — meant having both chicken and vegetable BTB on hand for home soup-making. There is also a beef BTB. Tip: When you get down to the bottom of a jar, always swirl some boiling water around and make sure you don’t waste a bit!

Ingredient list: Chicken Better Than Bouillon, carrots, cauliflower, onion, chili powder, garlic salt, cheddar cheese, bacon, nutmeg
(I used half the head of cauliflower, three very large carrots, and a medium large onion but did not measure other ingredients.)

Oh-oh! Don't forget the carrots!
So cauliflower and BTB were the base, but I liked the idea of carrots, which one recipe I saw included. The Artist thought I could leave those out. He can take or leave carrots. Oh, no! Those carrots were going in! And they went in first, before the cauliflower and sautéed onions, because they would take the longest to cook nice and soft. I should have (but didn’t) get a shot of the carrots in the broth by themselves, because the rich color they impart goes a long way toward explaining why you shouldn’t leave them out.

Vegetables "getting good," as my Grandma would say

And here’s where I have to make an embarrassing admission: although I have two immersion blenders at home in Michigan (one I bought, one a gift from someone who didn’t think I would buy one for myself) … and could have brought one of them to Arizona … and actually considered bringing one — there is no excuse! — for some cockamamie reason I’ll never be able to retrieve from memory, I did not  pack a blender when we left our Northport farmhouse! I do not have a blender here in the Arizona ghost town where we are wintering. I do not even have an eggbeater — because do you know how hard it is to find an eggbeater now when everyone uses blenders instead? 

But I did add a potato masher to the kitchen recently, a nice hand tool that requires no electric power and does not need to be stored on top of the counter. My soup, then, of necessity, would be rough in texture rather than creamy. Rustic, right?

Recap: Simmer carrot slices in chicken stock or bouillon. Add cauliflower and sautéed onions and continue the simmer. Add more stock if needed. Add some garlic salt and chili powder at this stage. When all these are cooked nice and soft — and I let mine bubble away for an hour or two; you’re going to mash or blend them, so you can’t overcook the vegetables — use your potato masher to mash them to a pulp or throw everything, a bit at a time, into a blender if you want to go that route. But if you blend it, you’ll have a creamy soup, not what I’m calling a rustic soup. 

Finally, add in as much grated sharp cheddar cheese as you like and stir until smooth.

Last step is thickening. It’s like making gravy. Stir together a heaping tablespoon (not level — heaping) of flour and enough cold water to make something more watery than a paste. No lumps, please. Then add a generous ladleful of your soupy vegetables to the cold flour-water mixture, stir it well, and add it back to the soup. Stir well. 

Now leave the soup on low heat while you cook up a couple strips of bacon. These are just garnish, so don’t go overboard.

The final touch, not to be omitted!

Last touch before serving is freshly grated nutmeg. It is so satisfying to grate nutmeg! If you don’t have whole nutmegs or a grater with that necessary fine option, ground nutmeg will do, but don’t forget the nutmeg. Like the savory sweet potato pie of the other day, this is definitely a soup I’m putting on the menu of my imaginary restaurant!

You won't believe how good it is!

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