Spring is definitely here. Not just because the date on the calender says so or that the magazines in the mail box have a picture with peas and fava beans and other such new crop vegetables. Nope, the chill in the air has been replaced by that familiar warmth that while not obvious at first, you relish with the memories of warmer seasons past. The sun seems brighter, warmer and more at home in its environment, all around me crocuses have given way to the first daffodils, and cherry blossoms are finally showering our streets with that blush of spring that seems "so Vancouver" and can't help but form spontaneous smiles on faces throughout the city. I'm almost out of Ruth's garlic (sad am I) and the winter squash in the markets have all but disappeared. Yes, spring is here and how glorious it is.
This buttery looking soup you see above is actually a late winter staple and since I've already shared two soups with winter white vegetables, I thought this would be a great way to say good bye to winter and hello spring.
Cauliflower is a vegetable I've loved all my life. On occasion, as a child, my Mom would make cheese sauce when we had steamed cauliflower and it seems so extravagant. Listen up Moms. If you want your children to eat their cruciferous vegetables, smother it with cheese sauce. Works every time. I love its heft when barely steamed and eaten almost raw and I've enjoyed it on more than one occasion as a puree underneath a beautifully cooked fish. A nice alternative to mashed potatoes. But this soup is a perfect expression of its cauliflower-ness (yup, I just made up a word. You get to do that when its your blog) in semi liquid form. This is a great recipe to have on hand for those cauliflowers that seem to get forgotten in our fridges, them in their generic plastic jackets. When they start to get a little brown spot or so they don't seem like such a good idea anymore. Well, trim them off and make soup out of them. No one will ever know you forgot about the poor little thing.
While I love the simplicity of this soup, I felt the urge recently to switch it up just a bit. And I was getting a little bored of white soup, so I needed to come up with a way to tint it a bit too. I remember Nigella Lawson once describing Saffron as "buttery and pungent" and that description has always stuck with me. Its that butteriness that made me pair saffron with my classic cauliflower soup. The saffron adds a lovely golden colour to an otherwise bone white dish and flavours the soup without overpowering it. A whole cauliflower is cut up and cooked slowly with butter and flavouring before being introduced to stock, simmered and then blended smooth. After blending the intense creaminess seems to scream "loaded with cream", but in fact can be eaten with no cream added at all. Although a little at the end seems to round out the flavours
Cauliflower Soup with Saffron
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 small-medium onion, peeled and sliced
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh thyme, or 1/4 tsp dried leaves
1/2 tsp saffron
1/4 cup dry white wine
water to cover onions
1 head cauliflower, bottom stock and leaves trimmed, 1/4 inch slices
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
3 Tbsp cream, optional
salt and white pepper
Heat oil and butter in a medium-large saucepan over med heat. Add onions and herbs with a pinch of salt and sweat gently until onions are translucent. Stir often. Do not let brown. Reduce heat if necessary.
Once translucent add wine and enough water just to barely cover onions. Increase heat and allow to bubble away until almost all liquid is evaporated, careful not to allow any browning, stir often to facilitate evaporation.
Add cauliflower and still keeping heat to med-high, allow cauliflower to begin to cook, stirring from time to time. After about 10 minutes, when it starting to soften, add stock, and some salt and white pepper. Bring to a boil, then adjust heat to a healthy simmer, leaving lid ajar.
Cook until cauliflower is extremely soft, about 20 minutes.
Remove thyme and bay leaf. Blend in small batches until silky smooth. Put back on heat just to warm up, add cream and adjust seasonings. Serve with a drizzle of great tasting olive oil.