Cauliflower Cheese is a very popular dish in England, one of its comfort foods. Basically, it is cauliflower in a creamy cheese sauce. But the first time I heard of cauliflower cheese, on the set menu at a restaurant during a high-school summer in England, I was a little worried it was actually some kind of strange British cheese. I thought they might bring our some lumpy, bumpy, smelly cheese – an early on I always worried even the most innocuous sounding English food would contain unfamiliar animal parts. I have since learned not to fear British food, and the combination of cauliflower and cheese is a solid one. I love it in this creamy, simple soup.
This soup is hugely adaptable. I love the interesting touch of the curried crumbs (and it is a way to use some of the extra cauliflower), but the array of topping possibilities is endless. Try the crumbs with just salt and pepper, or any seasoning you prefer. Crispy pieces of bacon or pancetta, toasted croutons, a shower of chopped herbs, a drizzle of olive oil, chopped toasted walnuts or some extra shredded cheddar. Use your imagination and what you have to hand.
Cauliflower Cheese Soup with Curried Cauliflower Crumbs
2 leeks, white and lightest green parts (about 8 ounces)
¼ cup butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
6 – 7 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
1 pound cauliflower (about ½ head)
14 ounces white cheddar cheese, grated
For the Crumbs:
½ head cauliflower
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¼ teaspoon curry powder
Slice the leeks into thin rings, then rinse well under cold running water. Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat, then add the leeks and cook until soft and wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook one more minute. Sprinkle over the flour and cook until the flour is thoroughly combined with the leeks. Add the broth, cream and 2 cups of water. Stir until the soup begins to thicken, then add the nutmeg, bay leaves and thyme (I tie the sprigs together with a small piece of twine to make them easier to remove later). Bring the soup to a low bubble, but do not boil.
Cut the cauliflower into small pieces, removing any very hard center stem. Drop the pieces into the soup, reduce the heat to low and cover the pot. Let the soup simmer for 20 – 25 minutes or until the cauliflower is soft. Puree the soup with an immersion blender or vary carefully in batches in a blender. When the soup is smooth, stir in the grated cheddar by handfuls, melting each handful before the adding the next one. Season well with salt. The salt can be cooled, covered and refrigerated at this point for several hours. Reheat gently; do not boil.
Serve sprinkled with the curried crumbs.
For the Crumbs:
Use a large knife to shave the knobbly top of the cauliflower to produce ½ cup of crumbs. Remove any larger pieces of stem. It should look like fine bread crumbs.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat, then add the cauliflower crumbs. Stir constantly until the crumbs are brown and toasted, Sprinkle over the curry powder and a pinch of salt and stir to coat. Toast a few seconds longer until brown and fragrant. Remove the crumbs to paper towel lined plate with a slotted spoon.
Sprinkle the crumbs over the soup to serve.