Happy October and happy fall, friends! I am so glad to be back in my little space of the Internet. Try as I might, when things get busy, my poor blog takes a back seat. I just don’t know how so many bloggers juggle all their life responsibilities and keep blogging regularly. I’m in constant awe of them. Now that the craziness of summer is behind me, I want to get back to working on posting more regularly. Lately, I’ve been feeling like I just can’t keep up with everything that needs my attention. I’ve definitely been procrastinating more than I ever have, especially on social media, which (obviously) leaves me with less time to do the things I should be doing to improve as a food blogger: writing, photography, recipe development, the list goes on. The beginning of fall always feels like hitting the “reset” button. I love the fresh start of a new scholastic year combined with the change in season to cooler temperatures and the heartier recipes we’ve been waiting all year to make. I found it fitting to return to my blog with this lovely recipe for cauliflower vellutata. It is still hot as blazes here in Houston, but once I flip the calendar to October, it is officially soup season at Casa Scalzitti, temperatures be damned. Since it takes a while for fall temperatures to arrive here in the south, I start off by making lighter, vegetable-centric soups, and I wait for the colder months to bring on the heartier chilis and bean and meat-based soups.
Although I’m an ardent vegetable lover, I’ve never been the biggest fan of cauliflower. Over the years I’ve realized that my indifference had everything to do with how it is prepared. I grew up eating it mostly boiled and dressed with olive oil (so boring), but I’d gobble it up when it was prepared as a gratinata. I also love it roasted, or dipped in a simple pastella (batter) and fried as part of a fritto misto (mixed fry). It is just one of those vegetables that needs a little help in the flavor department. I’m now adding this cauliflower vellutata to my list of favorite ways to eat cauliflower.
A vellutata in Italy is a puréed vegetable or legume soup. The ingredient list is often minimal but it is always perfectly seasoned, sometimes with the addition of fresh herbs to complement the flavor of the main vegetable being used. For this recipe, I’m using the word vellutata loosely because an authentic Italian vellutata doesn’t contain any dairy except for maybe a small amount of butter which is used to sauté the vegetables. A true vellutata gets its thick, creamy texture simply from being puréed with just the right amount of water, vegetable stock, or chicken stock. A more accurate description of my version would be “cream of cauliflower”, with the attribute of a vellutata in that it is a thick, puréed vegetable soup.
I adapted a recipe from Red Drummond’s book, The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime where she shares a recipe for cheesy cauliflower soup. I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for a while because it looks and sounds so good. But…I’m not a fan of cheese soups. Despite being a huge cheese lover, cheese-based soups aren’t my thing. I am, however, a life-long lover of cream soups, so I made a few adaptations to lighten the soup somewhat (it is a cream soup after all) and more importantly, put an Italian spin on the recipe.
I swapped out the onions for leeks for the aromatic base. Leeks have a milder and sweeter flavor than onions that pair well with cream soups. I then substituted pancetta for the bacon which gave the soup a subtler smokiness which was just as flavorful but less overpowering than bacon. I lightened the soup considerably by omitting the the majority of the cheeses, half-and-half, and sour cream in the original recipe. Instead, I chose one type of cheese–shredded Asiago–and sprinkled a scant ⅓ cup into the puréed soup at the end of cooking. The Asiago added the right amount of savory flavor to the soup without weighing it down. These few changes allowed the cauliflower’s delicate flavor to shine. A light sprinkle of fresh parsley, Asiago, and a few crumbles of pancetta made the perfect garnish.
This cauliflower vellutata would make a delightful first course for Thanksgiving since it’s not too filling but still satisfying. It is also easily customized to be made vegetarian–simply omit the pancetta and replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock. With cruciferous vegetables now coming into season, a warm, comforting bowl of cauliflower vellutata is the perfect soup to enjoy for the colder months ahead.
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Dinnertime by Ree Drummond
You can easily make this soup vegetarian by simply omitting the pancetta and using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.
Special equipment: immersion blender
For the soup
2 heads cauliflower
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 ounces (112 grams) diced pancetta
2 small leeks, washed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt, divided (plus more to taste)
½ teaspoon pepper (plus more for serving)
4 cups (1000 mL) chicken stock
4 cups (1000 mL) water
2 Tablespoons fresh minced parsley (plus more for serving)
⅓ cup shredded Asiago cheese (plus more for serving)
For the béchamel
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
Cut the heads of cauliflower into small florets and rinse them thoroughly with cold water and drain well. Set aside.
Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add in the olive oil. Add in the diced pancetta and cook, stirring often, until it has crisped and browned. Use a slotted spoon to remove the pancetta to a small plate lined with a paper towel, leaving any remaining rendered fat in the pot. Add the sliced leeks and ½ teaspoon of the salt to the pot and sauté, stirring often, until the leeks have softened completely and are translucent around the edges.
Next, add in the cauliflower florets, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and the pepper, and toss to combine all the ingredients. Cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes. Pour in the broth and water and bring the liquid to a gentle but steady simmer, adjusting the heat if necessary, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the florets can be easily pierced with a sharp knife. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup. Reduce the heat to low to let the soup keep warm.
Make the béchamel sauce
In a small sauce pot, melt the butter over medium-low until it has stopped foaming. Sprinkle in the flour and whisk to form a smooth roux. Cook the roux, whisking constantly, for 2-3 minutes, adjusting the heat if necessary to keep the roux from bubbling or burning (it should have a golden “blonde” color). Pour in the milk and whisk constantly over medium-low heat until the mixture becomes thick, then remove it from the heat and pour the béchamel directly into the cauliflower soup. Raise the heat under the soup pot to medium low, and use a whisk to incorporate the béchamel into the cauliflower soup until it is smooth in consistency.
Turn off the heat and add in the reserved pancetta, the minced parsley, and the Asiago cheese, and stir to incorporate. Taste the soup and adjust for salt to your taste (I found that it needed more salt).
Ladle the soup into bowls and sprinkle with additional parsley, Asiago, and a few grinds of black pepper if desired.