A tale of two soups

October 16, 2020

As you may imagine, the recent clouds and rain were sufficient encouragement to pull out my favorite soup pot and create a bowl of warm comfort. I was rather pleased with my plan to assemble two different recipes simultaneously, since many of the steps overlapped and cooking times coordinated, getting me in and out of the kitchen quickly.

The first step was deciding which ingredients I had on hand, to determine what soups I could assemble. A head of cauliflower, a red pepper, some no-longer-perky tomatoes and a recent batch of homemade chicken stock made their way to the kitchen counter as I opted for a roasted cauliflower bisque and a rich red pepper and tomato blend.

To enrich the cauliflower with some nutty flavor notes, I chopped the head into bite-sized florets and tossed them on a baking sheet with a drizzle of olive oil. After about 40 minutes, the creamy white color gave way to golden caramel hints. Since both soups needed chopped alliums, the onions and shallots came next.

As the cauliflower continued roasting, I set up two soup pots on the stovetop and sautéed the onions until softened and translucent. I added pressed garlic to one pot and chopped red pepper to the other, again sautéing them until soft. Before adding the cauliflower to the shallot and garlic mixture, I poured in chicken broth to deglaze the pan and scrape up some of those delicious brown bit.

I was loosely consulting instructions from two different recipes, one of which didn’t roast the cauliflower, but boiled it in the broth. I should have taken this into consideration and cut back on the volume of liquid. While simmering without the roasted cauliflower, there was nothing in the mixture to add any body to the broth. Adding the cauliflower gave it some thickness, but that didn’t hold up after puréeing the mixture with an immersion blender. The soup tasted good with bold garlic and subtle heat from the shallot; the roasted florets added slightly nutty hints. For my (rescued) version of the recipe, I created a roux from flour and butter to whisk in just before serving to add richness and a slightly rounder mouthfeel.

Meanwhile, the tomato soup base of onion and red pepper was ready for the star ingredient – tomato. Here is a place to showcase those heirloom tomatoes that didn’t make it into a salad or side dish before softening or becoming unsightly on your countertop. Simply cut away any bruised or browned spots, and toss the chunks into the pot. Add just a splash of broth and a scattering of Italian herb mix. Cover and simmer until the tomatoes disintegrate.

Now you’re ready to purée, with either an immersion blender or a food processor. No matter which appliance you choose, keep in mind the liquid is quite hot and can easily spatter to scald a finger or chin, and definitely your shirt. Once the purée is smooth, return it to the pot and add a splash of cream (nice, but not necessary). Let this heat slowly while you sauté some croutons.

For the croutons in the photo, I used cubed Italian bread, tossed with herb mix and cooked in a mixture of butter and olive oil. They turned out crunchy and flavorful, perfect garnish for the thick soup. So, the moral of this tale of two soups is to make sure your basic ingredients are sturdy enough to support the liquid volume you add.

Tomato & Red Pepper Soup

1 T olive oil
1 T butter
1 chopped onion
1 chopped red bell pepper
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C chicken stock
1 t Italian seasoning blend
1/4 C heavy cream
salt, to taste
croutons (optional)

Combine olive oil and butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When butter melts, add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add red bell pepper and continue cooking until vegetables are completely wilted. Stir in tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes. Pour in stock to deglaze the pan of any brown bits. Add about 1 t seasoning, cover and simmer until vegetables start to disintegrate, about 15 minutes. Purée the mixture with an immersion blender or food processor until smooth. Add cream (if using) and heat through. Season to taste with salt and serve garnished with croutons. Yield: 4 servings.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup

1 head cauliflower
2 T olive oil
1/2 t salt
1 T olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
2 pressed garlic cloves
2 C chicken stock
2 T butter
1 T flour
1 T lemon juice
ground nutmeg, for garnish

Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Trim away the tough stems of the cauliflower and cut into small florets. Arrange cauliflower on baking sheet and drizzle with 2 T olive oil. Shake the pan to coat the pieces; sprinkle with salt. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through. When the cauliflower is lightly golden and tender, remove from oven; set aside. Warm the olive oil in a saucepan and add shallots. Sauté until tender and translucent; add garlic and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in stock, scraping up any browned bits. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add roasted cauliflower. Cover and cook until cauliflower starts to disintegrate, about 20 minutes. While soup simmers, prepare a roux by melting 2 T butter in a small skillet. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly until golden; set aside. Purée the cauliflower mixture with an immersion blender or food processor. Whisk in roux, stirring until combined. Add lemon juice and season to taste with salt. Garnish with grated nutmeg. Yield: 4 servings.

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