They say the sign of an excellent cook is in their soup. But they also say that about their roast chicken. And their eggs. What dish do you think represents a good cook? As for me, I hope it's not the former. You see, soup is not my favorite thing to cook, nor is it my favorite thing to eat.
Don't get me wrong, I'll never turn down a bowl of French onion, with its bubbling cheese and toasty bread topping, and I always order the amazing chicken enchilada soup at my favorite hometown cafe. Oh, and that Taiwanese Beef Noodle Soup? Yeah, that one's a winner. But other than that, I can usually take 'em or leave 'em.
So you can see it's a little random that I even chose to cook this, as I haven't really found too many homemade soup recipes worth keeping. One soup I really wanted to like is loaded baked potato. I've taken a couple of stabs at it, but it just never seems to replace the perfection that is an actual baked potato. I wanted to love beer cheese soup, too, but in the end I find its much more suited to dip form.
But with the strange winter weather, something took over me, and I found myself making this roasted cauliflower soup. Its inspiration came from many different places: a new cookbook, a dish I saw on a restaurant menu, and a new food mill. It came together on an unseasonably warm afternoon, and to my surprise I found myself slurping it straight from the pot. I kept the recipe straightforward and classic; I used my intuition to build flavorful layers while keeping the taste true to its ingredients.
It turned out to be a really good soup. But the best part? The dill whipped cream piled on top. I've read about savory uses for whipped cream before, even bookmarked them in my brain, and now I'm kicking myself for waiting so long to try one out. I love that something so simple can take a standard dish from ordinary to extraordinary. The possibilities are truly endless here: I think it would be great dolloped on a smoked salmon blini, or even as a seasonal summer vegetable dip. Only your imagination is the limit.
So perhaps a soup really can reveal a good cook? Because maybe it's not really in the soup, but in the garnish.
Roasted Cauliflower & Potato Soup with Dill Whipped Cream
Dill cream inspired by A New Turn in the South by Hugh Acheson
Serves 4 to 6
For the soup:
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 leek, sliced into half-moons and rinsed
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups good-quality chicken stock
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 cup crème fraîche
4 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1 packed cup), optional
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the dill whipped cream:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 heaping tablespoon chopped dill
Kosher salt, to taste
For the soup, preheat oven to 450°F.
Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, toss the cauliflower with remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the cauliflower to the pan with the potatoes, stirring to combine. Cook for an additional 25 minutes, stirring midway through cooking, until vegetables are soft and golden-brown.
In a Dutch oven or soup pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add the onions and leeks and sauté until tender and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another minute. Add the roasted vegetables and stock to the Dutch oven and season with a little salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes.
To purée the soup, either run it through a food mill fitted with the medium disc or process in batches in a blender. If you want a very smooth soup, push the purée through a fine mesh sieve or chinois, if desired.
Return the soup to the Dutch oven. Add milk and crème fraîche and rewarm over medium-low to medium heat. Whisk in cheese until completely melted, if using. Season the soup with kosher salt and pepper, to taste. (If making the soup in advance, leave out the milk, crème fraîche, and cheese until ready to reheat and serve.)
For the dill whipped cream, add heavy cream to a clean mixing bowl. Using a balloon whisk, whip the cream vigorously by hand until soft peaks begin to form. (I like a thickened, yet still malleable texture.) Gently stir in the dill and a generous pinch of kosher salt. Chill for about an hour to allow flavors to marry. If the whipped cream gets too thick, just fold in a couple splashes of cream until it reaches the desired texture.
Serve the soup with a dollop of dill whipped cream, coarsely ground black pepper, and a drizzle of good olive or walnut oil.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)