As I’ve mentioned, I am cooking most of this week from Rocco Dispirito’s cookbook entitled Flavor. Last night was my first Rocco-curian experience, and while it started out pretty…Roccy…the meal ended up a smashing success.
The main premise behind Flavor is that most dishes worth eating have elements of sour, salty, sweet and bitter. Dispirito goes to some lengths to teach the home cook which flavors come from which sources, and to identify in his recipes which ingredients provide which kind of taste. Although many of the dishes in the cookbook will never be made in my kitchen for a variety of reasons (Rocco is a much bigger seafood fan than either member of my audience), the “Aromatic Cauliflower Soup” looked like a relatively healthy, interesting twist on regular cream of vegetable soup (the kind where you cook the vegetable with onions and seasoning and broth, then puree it and add cream).
There were two issues right off the bat: in the photograph in Flavor, the soup has enough body to support a picturesque circular drizzle of basil oil and toasted pine nuts; mine was so thin that the additions sunk to the bottom. That has a great deal to do with the size of the cauliflower one uses, and while I don’t think it affected the flavor, it certainly was not quite as lovely as I had expected.
Second, if you are a competent cook and follow Rocco’s instructions in order, it will take you twice as long as necessary to make this soup start to finish. I see no reason not to multi-task and make the sugar-basil oil and the toasted flavored pine nuts during the periods when the cauliflower and onions are doing their thing on another burner. I didn’t strain the soup, either, but I did take the step of straining the basil-simple syrup mixture. Although it might be interesting if the basil pieces were left in…maybe next time.
My final caution is that, if one is accustomed to the standard method of making cream soup from vegetables, one may be as horrified as I was after making the cauliflower base for this recipe, tasting it, finding out that it basically has no flavor, seasoning the hell out of it tasting it again, giving up and deciding I would put it all together and then throw it out and order pizza. DO NOT GIVE UP. There is some kind of alchemy, quite probably having to do with DiSpirito’s flavor theory, that makes the sum of the parts a glorious thing in this recipe. Everybody loved it, even the kid, and it was all eaten so fast that there is no photographic evidence that the meal ever existed.
Aromatic Cauliflower Soup
(From Rocco DiSprito’s Flavor)
- 3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup corn or vegetable oil (do not use olive oil)
- 1 large Vidalia onion peeled and chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 quarts cauliflower florets (from about 1 large head)
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons ground coriander
Warm 3 tablespoons of the oil in a large soup pot over low heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, cover pan and sweat onion for 10 minutes. Add the cauliflower, season, and stir well to coat. Increase the heat to medium and cook another 10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add 1 quart water and increase heat to high. When water reaches a boil, immediately reduce heat so that soup simmers. Simmer 20 minutes or until cauliflower is completely tender. Working in batches, transfer soup to a blender and puree until smooth. (I just used an immersion blender in the pot). Pour the soup through a wide mesh strainer into a clean pot. (Or do as I did, and just leave it where it is).
While soup simmers, make a simple syrup out by heating sugar with 1/4 cup water until sugar is dissolved. Transfer syrup to a blender.
Bring a small pan of salted water to a boil. Submerge thge basil leaves and boil for three minutes. Drain basil in a colander and immediately run colander under tap water until leaves are cool. place basil in blender with sugar syrup and puree for 2 minutes. strain, sprinkle with salt and set aside.
Heat the remaining 1/4 cup corn oil in a shallow pan over medium-low heat. Add the pine nuts and cook, shaking the pan frequently until nuts turn golden brown, about 1 minute. Place pine nuts on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and coriander. Whisk 2 tablespoons of the pine nut-flavored cooking oil into the basil syrup.
To serve, ladle the hot soup into bowls. Drizzle a few spoons of basil syrup around the perimeter and pile some pine nuts on the surface of each bowl of soup. Serve hot.