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
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.