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September 20, 2013

High-heat roasting can transform cauliflower

The first time I roasted a head of cauliflower was a pivotal food moment for me. It changed my vegetable-eating life. Before that, I was able to eat one or two pieces of cauliflower, and even then only if they were smothered in cheese sauce. But once I learned how roasting dramatically changes the flavor of cauliflower, I could eat an entire head straight up. It’s really that good.

I still remember watching the pale ivory cauliflower changing colors and emitting these dark, caramelized cabbage-y scents from the oven. I was skeptical, but patient. My patience paid off.

Even after making it dozens of times, it still amazes me that something as simple as high-heat roasting can transform this vegetable from something lackluster into something that you — quite literally — can’t stop eating. So, I thought to myself, I wonder what would happen if I roasted cauliflower, then turned the intensely flavorful florets into soup?

The results? A silky, luxurious and ultimately satisfying soup that is simple. The key, of course, is the high-heat roasting of the cauliflower before pureeing it into a soup. High-heat roasting concentrates the sugars in the vegetable and gives it a depth and nuttiness that cannot be coaxed out of it any other way.

I lightly season the soup with salt, white pepper and fresh thyme. Chicken stock, or veggie stock if you prefer, and half-and-half thin it out to a souplike consistency. I also serve the soup with a sprinkle of crisp country ham or apple wood-smoked bacon to dress it up. Other than those few supporting ingredients, it is the roasted cauliflower that steals the show.

This rich and delicious soup is deceptively healthful and can be made even more so by using milk instead of half-and-half. The best news is that it is really three recipes in one! You can serve the roasted cauliflower on its own, make the soup as the recipe states, or create a “mash” or puree by decreasing the amount of liquid by half when pureeing (serve as a substitute for mashed potatoes).

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