I’ve been sitting on this recipe for a while, because procrastination and inconsistency are two of my specialties. But wait, there’s more to it than that. The problem is: What can I possibly say about cauliflower? To be sure, it is not the sexiest of vegetables.
Last night I understood the difficulty while watching a snippet of Charlie Rose’s interview with Gabrielle Hamilton, chef/owner of Prune restaurant in NYC and author of a newly published, reputedly fascinating, memoir entitled Blood, Bones and Butter.
Cauliflower, like my life right now, just doesn’t measure up to that kind of excitement. In fact, both my life and cauliflower: nothing to write home about. Which means, I haven’t much news to impart to you, dear readers. I do not currently own a restaurant like Gabrielle Hamilton, nor have I wandered the length and breadth of a bunch of continents and returned with spellbinding stories of my semi-self-destructive (read glamorous) life.
I had to stop and think about that. (Warning: detour ahead). My father used to say ‘comparison is odious.’ I hated when he said that. First of all, I didn't understand the meaning of odious—he was no doubt trying to improve my vocabulary—but it sounded like ominous, so I had to look up both of those words in the dictionary. In addition, it smacked of unhelpful criticism. No accompanying constructive encouragement, explanations or tips.
But it turns out, Dad was right. Over the years I have observed that whenever I compare myself to someone (usually unfavorably) after some time passes, I understand with the genius of hindsight that my life is actually perfect and I do not want to trade it with anyone else’s no matter how unexciting mine may seem to me.
Because there comes a time when you recognize that unexciting is good. Unexciting (not to be confused with boring) is healthy. Unexciting is in the eye of the beholder, too. (College Boy thrills at the prospect of cauliflower on the menu.) Every moment cannot be a tah-dah! moment, thankfully, or in the pages of the newspaper.
As my friend Bruce Rubin says, "Seeing the remarkable in the unremarkable requires a conscious effort, a daily practice, until it just arises on its own."
Unexciting doesn’t engender exceptional storytelling on a daily basis, but it has its own little dramas. When you become free of the larger, crazy dramas (I’m not saying that I am, but I’m working on it), sitting down with a piece of buttered toast and a cup of tea is enough. It can be a blissful, wonderful moment, without fanfare. I like that.
As for the cauliflower, it is homely and plain, but it, too, is healthy and extraordinary in its own unique cauliflower way. The vegetable is packed with nutrients such as vitamin C, folic acid, potassium and fiber and it is easy to love when transformed into a creamy soup made without an ounce of cream. A single potato cooked with the cauliflower and a couple of seconds in a blender deliver a satisfyingly smooth texture.
If you need some drama you can live with, top the soup with a spoonful of pesto. When traditional basil is not in season, a parsley version is a winning contender, especially when you employ this neat pesto trick: Blanch the parsley in boiling water for a few seconds, plunge it into an ice-water bath and squeeze out the excess water before making the pesto in the usual way. Blanching produces a bright green color that lasts for days. Toss leftover pesto with pasta or spread on bread in a sandwich.
Cauliflower soup with bright green parsley pesto
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, thickly sliced
1 head cauliflower, cored and broken into 2-inch florets
1 small potato, peeled and cut in 1-inch chunks
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat, Add the onions and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the vegetables soften but do not brown.
2. Add the cauliflower, potatoes, stock, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
3. Puree the soup in a blender in batches and return it to the pot. Reheat, stirring, over low heat. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like.
4. Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle each bowl with a generous spoonful of parsley pesto.
PESTO: (makes about 1 cup)
1/4 cup walnuts
2 cups packed parsley leaves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1. Toast the walnuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat, stirring constantly for 3 minutes, or until they are aromatic. Immediately transfer them to small plate (they will continue to cook and possibly burn if left in the hot pan).
2. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Set a bowl of ice water next to the stove. Drop the parsley leaves into the boiling water and once the water returns to a boil, cook for 30 seconds. Remove the parsley with a slotted spoon and plunge it into the bowl of ice water. Swish it around for 30 seconds and drain into a colander. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible with your hands.
3. Combine the parsley, walnuts, olive oil, salt, black pepper, grated Parmesan and 6 tablespoons hot tap water in a blender. Puree until smooth. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. Store leftover pesto in the refrigerator for up to 5 days and toss with pasta or spread on bread in a sandwich.
Tutorial: How to prep a head of cauliflower
Remove the bottom part of the stem and the leaves
Cut a deep cross into the bottom of the head of cauliflower
Break the head into four pieces
Slice off the inner core and the bottom leaves
Break apart the florets with your hands