The first cream of X soup (or “bisque”) I ever fell in love with was cauliflower. My mom and I ordered it at a diner in New Jersey once when I was little; we ate the whole cup full and had to order another (should have gotten the bowl). That creamy, white velouté was something exotic to both of us, I think, but mild and unassuming at the same time. I found an appreciation for dairy, which my young palate had been previously averse to, from it. How ironic then that I’ve stripped the milk or cream from this recipe in favor of the mild, sweet flavors and silken texture of just cauliflower and sweet corn, blended up.
I just didn’t feel like running out to grab cream. Nor do I think you need it. My CSA brought me a brittle little head of cauliflower recently, and ears of sweet corn. It was hot out. It had been ninety degrees for the past several days, and last weekend was no exception (save for a dramatic flash-rain while I was attempting to trek just-dried laundry home). There’s nothing more counterintuitive than eating hot soup in the hot, humid summer months—that is, unless you’re from a hot-climate country.
You sweat it out, with hot soup. It makes you feel oh so refreshed afterwards, because once you’ve filled your belly and nostrils with warmth everything is cooler in comparison. This is common custom in such hot places as Vietnam, Thailand and Taiwan, where my mom is from. This is not a soup from any of those nations, but the spirit of hot soup in the summertime is.
I certainly benefited from it, and so did my local produce. To be sure the cauliflower was aging a bit in my crisper after a week of neglect. Getting mashed up into a soup was its best bet for glory. It delivered.
To buttress that aging cauliflower were not just the kernels but the cob of an ear of corn, which was simmered with water to eke out all the sweetness and starches that an ear of corn can offer. (Hint: make corn stock with corn cobs leftover from cutting the kernels off.)
Plenty of people make just cream of cauliflower soup. Plenty of people make just cream of corn (or corn chowder) soup. You can combine them, and find that they complement rather than compete. Sometimes, two is better than one. And memories don’t have to be recreated to a T.
Cauliflower and Sweet Corn Bisque
(makes about 4 servings)
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 small-medium-sized head of cauliflower, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 ears sweet corn
salt to taste
white pepper to taste (or substitute with black pepper)
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon butter (optional)
fresh thyme or other fresh herbs for garnish (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until translucent. Add the chopped cauliflower and garlic and increase heat to medium. Add another pinch of salt along with white pepper and optional cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is gently golden-browned (add more oil to the pan if beginning to stick) and slightly softened, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, shuck the corn and cut the kernels from both. Set half the kernels aside, and add the remaining kernels to the pot along with both of the cobs. Add just enough water to cover the ears and bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 30 minutes.
Remove the corn cobs from the soup. Using a hand blender (or by carefully transferring the mixture in batches to a food processor or blender), puree the soup thoroughly. Add the reserved corn kernels to the soup and cook a few minutes to heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the optional butter. Serve with the optional fresh herbs for garnish.
(for 4 servings)
1 onion: $0.25
1 head of cauliflower: $3.50
2 ears of corn: $1.50
3 tablespoons olive oil: $0.25
1 tablespoon butter: $0.40
salt, pepper, fresh thyme (from houseplant): $0.20
Four brownie points: Harmless and healthy for you. Cauliflower is chock full of antioxidants, and if you use all the bits and parts (like the stem, core and leaves like I do) you’ll get some extra fiber from it. Not adding milk won’t score you calcium points but it will make this a very light yet satisfying soup.
Eight maple leaves: It’s easy to overlook all the great brassicas during the summer, when heirloom summer squashes and tomatoes are cheerful and bright. But it’s a good time to grab some good cauliflower locally, too, and the window for sweet corn on the cob is short and right now.