A Simple Yet Delicious Winter Soup – Good for Post-Holiday Decompression!

It’s been gray and rainy in Paris for days, so what could be better to counter the overcast skies than bowls of a warm, homemade potage. At the marché this week, I picked up a beautiful cauliflower, some root vegetables, a packet of grated Gruyère, and some hazelnuts—the makings for a soup I had prepared to begin my family’s Christmas dinner just a few week ago. This time, I carefully omitted the cream I had used so liberally in that earlier version, and instead reached for a bottle of reduced fat milk.

In the tiny kitchen of the apartment we rent, I made the soup as I had before, sautéing chopped leeks, carrots, celery, and cauliflower florets in olive oil, then simmering this vegetable mélange until tender in stock. Next the soup was pureed and enriched with milk. And, guess what! The quartet of vegetables provided so much flavor that I didn’t miss the taste (or the calories) of the cream at all. As finishing touches, a small sprinkle of Gruyère, a few coarsely chopped hazelnuts, and some snipped chives made fine garnishes, adding both color and texture.

Offer this soup as an opener, or make it the main course of a light supper or lunch. Add a warm, crusty peasant loaf, a salad of mixed greens (I like arugula and red leaf lettuce) dressed in lemon juice and olive oil, and then some fresh pears and a good blue cheese for dessert to round out the menu.

Cauliflower Soup with a Sprinkle of Gruyère and Hazelnuts

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped leeks
1/2 cup finely diced carrots
1/2 cup chopped celery
One 3-pound head of cauliflower, cut to yield 6 cups florets (Save extras for another use.)
4 cups chicken stock plus up to 1 cup or more if needed
Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup reduced fat milk (such as 2 %) plus up to 1/2 cup more if needed
1/3 cup grated Gruyère
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts (See note.)
1 tablespoon chopped chives or flat leaf parsley for garnish

1. In a large, heavy saucepan or pot (with a lid) set over medium heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the leeks, carrots, and celery, and sauté, stirring, until just slightly softened, for about 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower florets, and stir and cook 2 minutes more.

2 Add 4 cups of stock, 1/4 teaspoon salt, cayenne pepper, and several grinds of black pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer and then reduce the heat slightly. Cover the pot, and cook the soup at a gentle simmer until the vegetables are tender when pierced with a small sharp knife, for 20 to 25 minutes or more.

3. Puree the soup in a food processor, blender or food mill, and return the soup to the pot. Or, use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. Whisk in 1/2 cup milk. If the soup is too thick, add up to 1 cup or more stock and 1/2 cup additional milk. Season the soup with salt–if you used regular stock, only a little will be needed, but if you used reduced sodium stock, you will need to add a generous amount of additional salt. (Soup can be prepared 2 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, stirring often.)

4. Ladle the soup into 4 soup bowls. Garnish each serving with a sprinkle of cheese, some toasted hazelnuts, and chives or parsley. Serves 4.

Note: To toast hazelnuts, spread on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350 degree F oven until lightly browned and fragrant, about 8 minutes. Watch carefully. Remove and place nuts in a kitchen towel and rub off as much of the skins as possible.

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