Cauliflower is among the few local crops that astonishingly have flourished despite the horribly wet growing season that rotted the majority of the fall harvest. Purple, green, orange and white heads of cauliflower are mounded in the farmers’ markets and even in the local grocery store, where they are specially called out as local. I love the orange ones, which we ate earlier in the month simply steamed or roasted and combined with pasta. We were in the mood for soup, which was good, since I have an amazing amount of turkey stock — some light and some condensed – and little room in the freezer. I had made light stock from fresh necks and backs for Thanksgiving gravy, and thought that it would work fine for a cauliflower soup. (Otherwise I would have used chicken stock.)
I wanted a soup with oomph so I first roasted the cauliflower and combined it with a sliced leek that I had slightly browned in a little butter. Stewed with stock, flavored with a couple of squeezes of dried thyme from a bundle I harvested at our CSA last summer, pureed and thinned with a few drops of milk, the cauliflower and leeks made a hearty and full-flavored pureed soup.
To accompany the soup, I made long croutons – dipping sticks – from sourdough bread crisped in the oven with grated hard cheese mixed with thyme. I used an American-sourced cheese called Sole Gran Queso Reserve featured at Whole Foods this week. The dipping sticks were fun and delicious and a great vehicle for eating the soup.
Roasted Cauliflower and Leek Soup
Half a medium head of cauliflower
1 leek, white and light green part only
2 tsp butter
3-4 c homemade chicken or light turkey stock
½ tsp dried thyme
Optional: ¼ c milk, half & half or light cream
Optional: a sprig of fresh thyme, leaves removed
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Separate the cauliflower into florets and slice each one vertically into several pieces (the point is to achieve flat surfaces). Slice the tender part of the core the same way. Sprinkle the cauliflower with a little olive oil and salt and roast for about 10 minutes or until brown on one side. Flip and roast until tender, another approximately 5 minutes. Reserve a couple of attractive pieces as garnish.
While the cauliflower is roasting, prepare the leeks. Slice the leek vertically and wash, making sure to remove the sand that hides among the layers. Slice it crosswise and sauté it slowly in butter, letting a few of the edges brown.
When the cauliflower is done, add it to the leek and pour in some chicken or turkey stock. Add a little dried thyme and let the mixture simmer for about 15 minutes. Puree (use an immersion blender, food processor or food mill) and return to the pan. Thin with a little more stock or will milk or cream, if using. Adjust for salt. Garnish with reserved grilled cauliflower slices and a few leaves of fresh thyme. Serves 3-4.
Cheese Dipping Sticks (makes 4 pieces)
1 slice of bread, ½ thick, crusts removed and sliced the long way into ¾-inch wide strips
2 tbsp grated hard cheese
A pinch of dried thyme
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter both sides of the bread and place it on a baking sheet. Bake for about 5 minutes or until brown on one side. Flip them over, sprinkle cheese-herb mixture on the crisp side and continue to cook for about 5 minutes until the sticks are crispy and brown. Serve warm.