I have to admit a strange brain tick: I collect cauliflower recipes. I think this started at a time when I had a client who was beginning the South Beach diet and I noticed that people--some people, anyway--were substituting non-caloric cauliflower for starchy potatoes. Suddenly I was seeing cauliflower recipes everywhere, and I began to collect them and stash them away in a manila folder for who-knew-what future purpose. Because up to that point, the only cauliflower I was really familiar with was the kind my mother boiled, then drenched with one of those Hollandaise sauces made out of a foil packet. I was desperate to know every other possible way to prepare cauliflower. This week I needed to make a soup, so I thought it was high time I look into my cauliflower file and make a cauliflower soup before spring arrives and we move on to fava beans or something.
Cauliflower to me is the Cinderella of the brassica family. It doesn't get noticed much. Typically it is consigned to a corner of the steam table, mixed with some bland, overcooked carrots. But cauliflower has an almost ethereal flavor, hardly brassica at all, and the most yielding texture. This is a vegetable made for small children, a fairytale brassica, but it also dresses up well for adult tastes and without much bother. I like to toss it with extra virgin olive oil, salt and lots of curry powder, then roast it in a 450-degree oven to get an almost crusty brown on it. It also transforms completely in this soup preparation with potatoes, milk and cream. It is so delicious, I would eat it all the time, were it not for the potatoes, milk and cream. But see how easy it is: there's hardly any work at all. You just need to make absolutely sure when cooking the soup that the milk doesn't boil and separate. The soup should barely simmer until the vegetables are cooked through. Don't be surprised if this takes a half hour or 45 minutes. Just poke the cauliflower with a trussing skewer. It should slide through easily.
1 head cauliflower, broken into florets
2 medium boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 quart milk
1 cup heavy cream
salt and white pepper to taste
Place cauliflower, potatoes and milk in a heavy pot or Dutch oven. Over medium heat, bring soup just barely to a simmer, then reduce heat to lowest setting, cover and cook without boiling until the vegetables are perfectly tender. (If using an electric range, you might want to move the pot to one of your smaller burners so it doesn't overheat. For a gas range, a heat deflector might be called for.)
When vegetables are done, run the soup through a blender or food processor in batches until very smooth. Return soup to pot. Stir in heavy cream. Season with salt and white pepper. Serve hot with buttery croutons.
When I made this two days ago, I think I had somewhat more than the called-for potatoes. It was a thick but extravagantly velvety soup. My wife swooned over it, and I can't remember the last time she swooned.