A 'Top Chef' Cooks Up A Warming Winter Soup

A bowl of cream of cauliflower soup. i i

The finished product, garnished with oven-roasted cauliflower, toasted walnuts and brown butter. Guy Raz/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Guy Raz/NPR
A bowl of cream of cauliflower soup.

The finished product, garnished with oven-roasted cauliflower, toasted walnuts and brown butter.

Guy Raz/NPR
A package of cauliflower. i i

Winter is cauliflower season — make sure you get a firm, bright white one with no blemishes. Guy Raz/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Guy Raz/NPR
A package of cauliflower.

Winter is cauliflower season — make sure you get a firm, bright white one with no blemishes.

Guy Raz/NPR
'Top Chef' finalist Carla Hall tastes i i

Carla Hall says you don't have to be an absolute stickler for the recipe, but tasting is critical throughout the cooking process. Guy Raz/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Guy Raz/NPR
'Top Chef' finalist Carla Hall tastes

Carla Hall says you don't have to be an absolute stickler for the recipe, but tasting is critical throughout the cooking process.

Guy Raz/NPR

Supermarket produce shelves can be pretty bleak this time of year. You've got the basic apples, oranges, carrots ... and not a whole lot else in season. But when NPR's Guy Raz hit the produce aisle with caterer and Top Chef finalist Carla Hall, she knew exactly what to do: make a cream of cauliflower soup.

It turns out that winter is cauliflower season, and the humble vegetable makes a mouthwatering soup. "I love pureed soups," Hall says.

This particular soup has just a few major ingredients: cauliflower, leeks, garlic, butter and chicken stock. The leeks and cauliflower are roughly chopped and simmered in the stock, then seasoned to taste and run through the blender until the soup is silky smooth.

Hall garnishes this soup with roasted cauliflower florets and toasted nuts. "You want texture in your soup," she says. "In a pureed soup, you just absolutely want some texture."

But Hall says you don't have to be an absolute stickler for the recipe. "You just have to be present, and let the process be a little organic and not be so rigid with the recipe, because you have to feel it. For instance, if I'm doing this soup in season it's going to taste totally differently than it would if it's not in season. You have to honor the produce; maybe you have to add something else in it."

For example, Hall says vegans or vegetarians can substitute vegetable stock and almond milk for chicken stock and cream, and splash on a little walnut oil in place of the brown butter garnish. And you can skip the blender if you like your soup with a rougher texture.

The finished soup is deliciously creamy and comforting — one sip and you feel as if you're curled up in a cozy blanket in front of the fire. Bon appetit!

Cream Of Cauliflower Soup With Roasted Cauliflower Florets, Toasted Walnuts And Brown Butter

Makes 4 servings

1 head cauliflower

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 leeks, white part only, washed and cut into half-moons

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 quart, plus 1 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup heavy cream

Milk, if needed

1 large egg yolk

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Fresh nutmeg to taste

Garnish:

1/2 cup toasted walnuts

Chopped parsley

4 tablespoons butter

1. Wash and core the cauliflower. Reserve about 12 tiny florets, and blanch in salted water. Roughly chop the remaining cauliflower and set aside.

2. In a large pot, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until soft, about 3 minutes, but not taking on any color.

3. Sprinkle the flour over the leeks and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in the stock. Bring to a simmer. Add the chopped cauliflower and return to a slow simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to keep the bottom from sticking or burning until the cauliflower is fork-tender.

4. Remove the pot from the heat and puree the soup in a blender until silky smooth (this may be done in a few batches). Once processed, strain into a clean pot.

5. Place the pot over medium heat. Add 1/4 cup of heavy cream and bring to a simmer. If the consistency is too thick, add milk.

6. In a small bowl, combine the remaining cream and the egg yolk. Whisk a bit of the hot soup into the cream mixture to temper before whisking it into the soup. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add in a few sprinkles of nutmeg.

7. In a small skillet or pot, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Keep the butter on heat until it turns a nutty brown. Remove from heat and set aside.

8. Mix the tiny cauliflower florets and the toasted walnuts in a small bowl. Portion the soup into four shallow bowls and top with the garnish. Drizzle with the brown butter, then chopped parsley.

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