Cauliflower Apple Soup with Thyme Croutons
SoupAddict — being a soup addict and all — thought there would be no better way to ring out the lovely year of 2010 than with a steaming pot of lip-smackin’ soup. And this is not just any soup. It’s soup made with brown butter. Oh, yes, indeedy. SoupAddict is not yet ready to look a fat-laden cookie in the eyeball, but a brown butter base for a savory soup is right up her alley on this cold December day.
Oh, Hi! You haven’t run screaming yet at the sight of the word “cauliflower?”
You’re SoupAddict’s kind of people.
Here’s the thing about cauliflower: despite it’s bumpy, raw-brainy shape and bland white color, it’s a yummy, versatile vegetable. You’ll be amazed at the result of this soup: it’s thick and velvety smooth … without an ounce of dairy (aside from the brown butter, which is not acting as a cream base anyway).
Cauliflower and apples make for a delicious flavor profile: the nutty goodness of cooked cauliflower is enhanced by the tart notes of the apple. The funky pattern on the apple slices above, btw, is from the bag in which they were frozen. SoupAddict bought extra Northern Spies from a local grower back in the Fall and froze them just for occasions like this. Northern Spies are the best apples ever, in SoupAddict’s opinion. Honeycrisps come a close second.
Try the apples with the cauliflower — you’ll like it, SoupAddict promises [nodding sincerely].
SoupAddict had some leftover pieces of a homemade French boule, but most any bread will do for the croutons.
Side note: the lovely thing about growing thyme in your yard is that it stays green all winter long, with huge growth spurts in the Spring — year-round fresh thyme. SoupAddict had also collected the coriander seeds (foreground) from several cilantro plants she let go wild during the summer. There’s nothing like freshly ground coriander: citrusy and spicy in way you’d never expect from a cilantro plant.
(P.S.: seed catalog season is upon us, and for those in the northern hemisphere, it’s time to plan our summer gardens. SoupAddict cannot recommend highly enough growing your own herbs. Even if you can’t face taking on tomatoes or cucumbers, plant some basil, thyme, cilantro and rosemary. (SoupAddict also grows sage, cumin, dill, mint and oregano, in case you were wondering.) You can plant them anywhere – in the ground, in a window box on your deck or a pot on a sunny window sill. You won’t regret it.)
Ah … brown butter. Brown butter is simply butter that’s melted over low-ish heat until the milk fats separate and turn a deep golden brown, emitting the aroma of hazelnuts. In fact, in French, it’s called beurre noisette, which means hazelnut butter. Clever, eh?
The aromatic vegetables are sauteed in the brown butter, taking on a lovely little note of hazelnut, which will pair fabulously with the cauliflower and apples.
And in go the stars of the show.
To make the croutons, toss the bread cubes in heated oil, then season with thyme and freshly grated pepper. Stir to toast all sides of the cubes.
SoupAddict is really digging her new salt and pepper mills. They’re so cute, and they work. SoupAddict has been on a pepper mill quest for over a year now. The last pair she bought (the brand of which she will not name here, but starts with a “P” and ends with a “eugot”) is lucky they are not out shivering in the snow at this very moment. They cost a pretty penny, too, which makes the fail all the more painful.
When the bread cubes are nice and warm, sprinkle some parmesan over them and allow to melt without stirring. This will gently infuse the cubes with flavor, without being overpowering in the soup.
When the cauliflower is tender — about 20 minutes or so — puree the soup with an immersion blender (or use a regular blender, working with small batches) until very smooth. Yes, you read right: that lumpy vegetable becomes a super-smooth concoction that you’ll swear has had cream added to it.
See? So thick and creamy the croutons just float on top. The soup tastes even better the next day, and freezes well to boot.
Warning: Awkward Emotional Moment Approaching.
The fact that ya’ll return here to read SoupAddict’s odd babblings gets her choked up, every single time. SoupAddict is amazed, humbled and all-get-out grateful whenever you take a moment from your busy days to read an entire post, and perhaps leave a comment.
So, she — I — want to wish each and every one of you, commenters and lurkers alike, a Happy, Healthy and Culinarily Joyous New Year!
Cauliflower Apple Soup with Thyme Croutons
3 tablespoons butter
2 small sweet onions, diced
2 stalks celery, ends trimmed, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed, stems discarded
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets, main stem and core removed*
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced (a tart or a sweet-tart apple, like a Honeycrisp, is best)
4-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock (see note in directions)
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste (lots of pepper!)
1 tablespoon olive oil
relatively stale bread, cut into small cubes
1 sprig of thyme, leaves removed, stems discarded
parmesan cheese, finely grated, for sprinkling (fresh is best, but if you must use the green can, so be it)
Melt the butter in a stock pot or large dutch oven over medium-low heat until golden brown. This will only take a few minutes past the melting point, so don’t walk away from the stove. The butter should have a distinct nutty aroma. Add the onions, celery and garlic and sautee until the vegetables are soft, about 8-10 minutes. Sprinkle the thyme, coriander, a pinch of salt and some black pepper over the vegetables; stir well.
Add the cauliflower and apples to the pot and level evenly across the pot, then add stock until it almost (but does not) cover the cauliflower and apples. Depending on the size of the head of cauliflower, this could be anywhere from 4 to 6 cups of stock. Stir in the apple cider vinegar. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a good simmer. Cover, and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pan over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and stir thoroughly to coat in oil. If you want, run your chef’s knife through the thyme to break them into smaller spieces (they’ll stick to the bread better). Sprinkle the thyme and pepper over the cubes and stir until all sides are toasted and the cubes are very warm. Sprinkle parmesan cheese lightly over the cubes and allow to melt without stirring.
Back to the soup. When a floret of cauliflower is easily mashed against the side of the pot with a fork, use an immersion blender to blend the soup to a thick, creamy consistency (or use a regular blender, working in small batches). Taste the soup and add more salt and pepper, as necessary. Turn heat to low until ready to serve. Ladle into individual bowls, season with additional pepper, then top with the croutons.
*The head used in this post was quite large (and cost close to $4.00!), however, the size of the head isn’t very important – simply adjust the stock up or down to match, so that the soup is not too thick or too watery. You needn’t adjust the other ingredients, except for the seasoning: make sure you taste the soup now and then to see if it needs more salt or pepper.