I like cauliflower, but I am not obsessed with putting it to all sorts of uses. I don’t pizza crust it or rice it or make bread with it. I like cauliflower for itself, not for how it can trick me into thinking I’m eating something else – something perceived to be better. Food shouldn’t involve fraud. Cauliflower is lovely all on its own. My favortie form of cauliflower is soup, when it is transformed to a silky, rich bowl of deep flavor. And this soup. I mean, the first time I made this I actually called my mother to say I’d just made the best cauliflower soup. She agreed when she tasted it. This soup turns the snow white heads gloriously velvety, with rich, earthy nutty undertones from hazelnuts and browned butter. This may make you rethink your relationship with cauliflower.
The drizzle of browned butter and the crunchy hazelnuts really make this soup, adding such a lovely, nutty note. I blend this soup smooth, then pass it through a sieve to give it a really silken texture, but you can skip that step if you like. You can use vegetable stock, just chose one that is light in color or the final color will be muddy, And don’t be put off by preparing the hazelnuts – I always thought it sounded like a lot of trouble and skipped recipes because of it, but it is super simple and easy, I promise. And so worth the effort. Cooking some of the nuts in with the soup adds such a brilliant toasted flavor, but sprinkling some over the top gives a nice textural crunch. And everything is better with brown butter.
Cauliflower, Hazelnut and Brown Butter Soup
¾ cup whole hazelnuts
2 small heads of cauliflower
3 leeks, white and lightest green parts
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
¾ cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock
3 sprigs fresh marjoram
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
½ cup heavy cream
Put the nuts in a small dry skillet and heat over medium heat until they are warmed through, about 3 minutes. Turn them out onto a clean tea towel, the fold the towel over the nuts and gently roll them around to remove the skins. They don’t have to be completely denuded, just as much as possible. Pick out ½ cup of the most skin free and set aside. Put the rest in a small ziptop bag and give it a couple of bashes with a rolling pin to break them up. Save these for garnish.
Cut the woody stem and green leaves from the cauliflower and cut the heads into small pieces. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then into small half moons then rinse in a colander leaving just a little water clinging to them. Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter and the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium high heat and add the leeks. Sauté for about 5 minutes, just until the leeks are wilted and glassy, then add the cauliflower pieces. Stir to coat with the butter and oil and cook until the cauliflower starts to brown just a touch. Pour in the white wine and scrape up any bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for a few minutes to let the wine reduce, then pour in the stock. Add the ½ cup whole hazelnuts, salt and the marjoram springs and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes, until the cauliflower is very tender. Remove the marjoram stems (some leaves will be left behind).
While the soup is cooking, cut one stick of the butter into small pieces and place in a small saucepan (light colored or stainless is best so you can see the butter as it browns). Heat over medium high heat, watching constantly, until the butter is melted. It will start to spit and hiss, then you will see brown speckles appear. Swirl the butter around to distribute the browned bits, and as soon as the butter has an even brown color and a nice nutty smell, pour it into a measuring jug and set aside.
Puree the soup in batches in a blender, filling the blender about half-full each time. Be very careful as the hot liquid can make the top pop off. Remove the center cap and hold the top with a dish towel. Pour the pureed soup through a mesh strainer into a bowl. Rinse out the pot, then return the soup to it. Whisk in the cream and 1 Tablespoon of the browned butter. Taste and add salt as needed. Warm through, but do not boil.
Serve the soup drizzled with the remaining brown butter and the chopped hazelnuts. (if the butter has solidified, melt it in the microwave in 10 second bursts until it is liquid again.
Serves 6 – 8