Saffron Cauliflower Soup

Life doesn’t seem to understand that my head is still on vacation. I keep telling Life, over and over, that I’m still in Savannah or soaking in the tub at the Riverstead, and Life just puts his fingers in his ears and ignores me. He tells me I’ve been home for almost a month, and that I need to get back to cooking, and blogging about my meals, and to quit thinking I’m some kind of restaurant blogger now.


Writing about restaurants here and over at my new second-blog-home, Jersey Bites, helps me pretend I’m still on vacation. I went out to brunch last week and had two cocktails. I went out to lunch the next day. Then Jim and I ordered wood-oven pizzas two nights in a row. Then back out to dinner the next day. Hey Life, that sounds like a vacation to me. It’s all amazing fun.

But honestly, Life is right. I need to get back to cooking more regularly. I made a soup this morning and it felt so good to be standing over the stove, chopping onions, sneaking tastes here and there before the soup was finished. It even felt strangely good to be cleaning up the dishes later, swiping my favorite cutting board clean, drying off the blender. And finally, after almost a month back from vacation, I felt like I was me again: home in my kitchen, slurping up this creamy, salty soup, flavored boldly but not overwhelming with saffron, and topped with chive oil and fat snips of chives.

Soup is me. I need to remember that when I’m feeling out of sorts. I love making soups in the middle of a Saturday morning. No one else in the kitchen. No rush to get dinner on the table. I putt around. Listen to an episode of The Splendid Table. Cut the onions with precision, even though I don’t need to. And then, after the dishes are done and the table is cleared, I can sit down next to the tulips and have a proper lunch.

My favorite soup for this kind of proper lunch, on a Saturday with flowers on the table, is a pureed vegetable soup. This one, cauliflower, is just right: velvety with a bit of cream; very smooth after a long twist in the blender. It’s fancier than your typical clean-out-the-fridge pot of soup, so you can have a bowl for lunch and then serve the rest at a dinner party. The chives this time of the year are a little less than bright and cheery, so I pureed them with some nice olive oil for drizzling.

But the saffron is what really makes it special. Saffron is the long satin glove of the spice wardrobe. Delicate, fancy, and exotic, it lends a very-slightly bitter taste, almost of iodine, to the creamy soup—a flavor that can’t be mimicked. And the way you cook with it, lifting the little threads of out of their tiny bag, your soft, nimble fingers crushing it, measuring it out just right (because too much saffron is more like big, burly snow gloves), before you finally let it steep in the broth—it’s all very satisfying. With this soup, in my own home, I’m not missing vacation at all.

Saffron Cauliflower Soup

serves 6

adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2003

2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon coarsely crumbled saffron threads

3 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream, or more to taste

1 small bunch chives
1/3 cup olive oil
Thinly sliced fresh chives

Combine 2 cups water and 2 cups low-salt chicken broth in medium saucepan. Bring mixture just to simmer. Remove from heat. Add saffron threads. Cover and steep 20 minutes.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until very tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add cauliflower pieces; stir to coat. Add saffron broth. Bring to simmer over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until cauliflower pieces are tender, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, puree cauliflower mixture in a blender until smooth. Transfer cauliflower puree to large saucepan. Stir in half and half and bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.)

Put chives into cleaned blender.  Pulse for 1 minutes.  Add oil in a steady steam and blend for 1-2 minutes more, or until chive oil is smooth.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with chive oil and a few sliced fresh chives and serve.

Printable Recipe

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Boiled kale.

Winter in New Jersey seems to drag shiveringly on, boring me to tears.  There’s the occasional snowstorm, yes, and I love every minute I spend bundled up beside the windowsill, every glass of scotch. But those snowy nights are fleeting, and then we’re back to the monotonous cold, the rude wind, the car windshield that just won’t defrost. And the cabbage.

kale

Cabbage is certainly reliable, staving off mold, and rot, and drying up all through these months (and months) of cold, when everyone else—the carrots, the apples—have up and left, unable to stick it through.  But, egad, is he boring. Except, of course, with the proper treatment.

wash

Simmered in homemade chicken stock and a knob of butter, cabbage–specifically kale—turns into something silky, tender, willing to fall apart at the touch of your teeth. Boiled kale may not seem sexy, but trust me on this, it incredibly is. When kale comes in from plowing snow all day, and takes off his work boots and Levi jeans, I promise you there are silk boxers underneath. With little red hearts on them.

kale

So let’s talk proper treatment. First of all, you need good stock. Homemade. I’m sorry, but I just can’t budge on that one; homemade stock is not just better than store-bought, it’s a whole different thing altogether. And it’s incredibly easy. Just take a chicken, or a few carcasses from roast chicken dinners, or a few pounds of chicken parts. Put the chicken in a pot and add water to cover the chicken (or carcasses or parts) by an inch of two—it should be around 4 quarts. Bring to a boil, add an onion and a carrot, and a tablespoon of kosher salt. Bring the heat down to low, or whatever heat allows an occasional bubbling of the stock, but nothing like a simmer or a boil. Let it go on like that for about 4 hours, tasting occasionally, until it tastes like chicken and is a beautiful shade of yellow. At this point, I usually let the stock hang out until morning, or at least a few hours, then I strain through a sieve into plastic quart containers and use or freeze. See? Easy. And about a zillion times better than store-bought stock. (The quality of the stock is even more important than the quality of the kale; I’ve made this with kale that’s a week or two past its prime and it tasted delicious. With water? Not so much.)

IMG_4904

Butter, too, is key and, in my opinion, there’s no alternative for it. I mean, I guess you could go for grapeseed oil if you are vegan, or maybe try a high-heat nut oil, but, please, no olive oil. The taste of olive oil changes when it’s heated at a high heat, and in this recipe, that change is totally perceptible. It’s the difference between this kale being fanatic-making good and it’s being just good. Butter, on the other hand, helps the texture, coaxing every bit of luxuriousness out of the kale. And if you like the taste of olive oil with kale, just drizzle some on top after it’s cooked. Problem solved. That’s about it; with chicken stock, and butter, and enough cooking time that the kale becomes meltingly soft and silky and deeply kale flavored, there’s nothing better to beat the cold. I could (almost) have winter all year long.

boiled kale

Boiled Kale

serves 4

    I’ve met resistance when encouraging others to eat boiled kale. I have a hunch that it has something to do with the “raw” foods craze, and the fact that “boiled” anything reminds us of flavorless food with all its nutrients leached out. But that is not the case here. This recipe involves boiling the kale in chicken stock and then letting everything simmer until the liquid evaporates, vitamins intact, leaving the kale tender and coated in a silky slip. Maybe it’s the name, so call it whatever will help: “Melted” Kale, Braised Kale, “Shut up and Eat Your Vegetable Because You Will Like Them” Kale… whatever works.About salting: I salt my kale after it’s cooked down. This may be heresy, and may mean that the kale is not salted properly to its core, but considering every bunch of kale is not the same size, and the chicken stock may be evaporating at different speeds (however negligible) on any given day, it’s safest for me to salt after so I don’t overdo it.

1 pound kale leaves, from 2 very large kale bunches
4 cups homemade chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
salt

Wash kale thoroughly (using a salad spinner helps.)

To remove the kale’s leaves from stems, holding one piece at a time, run a sharp chef knife against each side of the stem, stripping the leaves off and leaving only the stem in your hand. Otherwise, lay a few pieces on top of each other and use your knife to cut the stems out. Or, strip them off with your hands, holding the stem with one hand and using your other hand to pull the leaf away from you until it comes off the stem.

Coarsely chop kale leaves. Add them to a large dutch oven or pot and pour 4 cups of homemade chicken stock over. (If there are bits of chicken stock gelatin sticking to the inside of the container, scrap that in too.) Add butter. Turn the heat to medium high and bring stock to a boil. If the kale is particularly unwieldy, or your pot isn’t quite big enough, you can put the cover on for a few minutes until it wilts some. Once it is boiling, cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid all but evaporates and the kale is silky and tender, about 45 minutes. If the kale doesn’t taste tender enough, and the liquid is already gone, add a splash more and cook until the kale meets your liking.

Salt to taste. Serve.