Sunday, 8 February 2009

Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crisps

Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crisps
This thick cheesy soup has 'Mum' written all over it.  If you turn misty-eyed at the thought of the bubbling cauliflower cheese you ate as child, you'll love this comforting meal.

My kids certainly do, even though they're not huge fans of cauliflower in its whole form.  

Flavoured with a hint of nutmeg, bay leaf and clove, this soup has great depth, and for that it depends on a good chicken or vegetable stock.

If you don't have time to make one from scratch, use boxed supermarket stock, fresh or long-life, or one made up of boiling water and a good quality condensed stock liquid or jelly.  But please, not a stock cube, which will add a dusty, salty note.

This recipe serves 8 to 10 (I always make a big batch because it tastes even better the day after) but you can halve the quantities if you have fewer mouths to feed.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Parmesan Crisps

2 Tbsp (30 ml) sunflower oil
1 Tbsp (15 ml) butter
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cauliflowers, cored and roughly chopped
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
a bay leaf
a whole clove
about 2 litres good chicken or vegetable stock
salt and white pepper
2 cups (500 ml) grated Cheddar

For the white sauce:
6 Tbsp (90 ml) butter
6 Tbsp (90 ml) flour
1.5 litres milk
2 tsp (10 ml) Dijon mustard
2 tsp (10 ml) lemon juice
a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

For the Parmesan crisps:
2 cups (500 ml) freshly grated Parmesan cheese or Grana Padano, grated on the coarse teeth of a cheese grater
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cayenne pepper or paprika

Heat the oil and butter in a large pot and add the onions. Fry over a medium heat for five minutes, until slightly softened, but don't allow them to brown. Add the cauliflower pieces, potato cubes, garlic, bay leaf and clove, cover with a lid  and stew very gently for 7 minutes. Pour in just enough stock barely to cover the vegetables, cover, and cook over a medium-low heat for about 25 minutes,or until the potato cubes are tender.

In the meantime, make a white sauce. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a high heat. When the butter stops foaming, tip in the flour and stir vigorously to make a paste. Cook for a minute, without allowing the butter to brown, then tip in all the milk. Using a balloon whisk, stir wildly to disperse any lumps.

Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth and thick. When the sauce comes to the boil, turn down the heat and bubble gently for three minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the mustard, lemon juice and nutmeg. Season to taste with white pepper and salt. Cover the surface of the sauce with clingfilm and set aside.

To make the Parmesan crisps, heat the oven to 180 ºC. Place small piles of grated Parmesan, 10 cm apart, on a non-stick baking sheet or dish lined with greaseproof parchment paper. Flatten each pile to form a little disk. Sprinkle with cayenne pepper or paprika. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden brown and bubbling. Remove with a spatula and place on a rack to cool and crisp up.

Remove the bay leaf and clove from the soup and use a stick blender or liquidiser to whiz to a very fine purée. Stir in the white sauce. If the soup seems too thick, add a little more stock. Simmer gently for ten minutes.

Immediately before serving, remove from the heat and add the grated Cheddar, stirring until the cheese has melted. Season to taste with salt and a little white pepper (this soup needs more salt than you would think). Don't reboil the soup, which will make the cheese stringy.

Serve immediately with Parmesan crisps.

Serves 8-10

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