Cauliflower is a favourite vegetable of mine and much underrated, I think. We tend to think of ‘good’ vegetables being those with vibrant colours – like carrots, tomatoes and sweet peppers – but despite its bland appearance, cauliflower is full of wonderful nutrients: calcium, magnesium, folic acid, potassium, beta-carotene and Vitamin C (source: The Food Doctor by Ian Marber). It’s immensely versatile, offering a meal in the form of the classic Cauliflower Cheese, to the more exotic and gorgeous Sicilian ‘Drowned Cauliflower‘ and the recently popular Cauliflower Steak.
To the Brit, there’s something inescapably British about cauliflowers with our Cauliflower Cheese and memories (for me as a child) of cauliflower served with a dressing of béchamel sauce as a side dish with Sunday roasts. In fact, they’re not British at all. The cauliflower is a variant of the Brassica oloracea family, the same as the cabbage. It can be traced back to Asia in the 12th century and has long been cultivated in Northern Europe. It likely goes back even further to the 1st century when Pliny, a Roman philosopher, wrote about cyma, a flowering cabbage that sounds much like our modern cauliflower. Chouxfleurs were introduced to France in 16th century, coming from Genoa in Italy. The cauliflower was introduced into England from Cyprus in about 1603, though they weren’t really well known until the days of Charles II in the latter part of the 17th century when they were described by a contemporary writer as ‘a common feature of the poor man’s garden’.
I certainly don’t think of them as a ‘poor man’s’ food now. Not because they’re expensive, but because of their sophisticated possibilities.
There are other cauliflower soups on this blog, even a roasted cauliflower with spices. But apart from celebrating the wonders of the cauliflower, the post is as much about talking of how easy and quick it is to prepare a simple and nutritious homemade soup for lunch or a snack, with very little effort. I watched a short video by the brilliant Michael Pollan that an artisan baker friend, Igor, shared on Facebook. He argues that our health problems today associated with diet – like obesity and Type 2 Diabetes – are linked to our addiction to and reliance on processed, ready-made meals. We watch TV programmes where chefs produce elaborate restaurant food that intimidates us, though we shouldn’t imagine that’s really home-cooked food and try to aspire to it; and we’re made to feel our time can be spent on more important things than cooking.
But what could possibly be more important than feeding ourselves and our families well? And by well, I mean wholesome, nutritious – and delicious – meals made from fresh, good quality ingredients. Cooking shouldn’t be labelled as drudgery, but a pleasure – especially when you get the whole family involved; and good quality doesn’t have to be expensive.
I have a busy start to the year: two big publishing jobs, family commitments, social commitments coming up, a short break in Amsterdam at the end of the month. All good! But with winter setting in and the days growing colder – albeit gloriously sunny today – eating well, eating good nutritious food is not only desirable but important.
I like to have a stash of homemade soups in my freezer – packaged in single portions – to pull out for lunch. Today, amidst an essential supermarket shop early on, a few hours publishing work, and then an afternoon looking after my gorgeous little grandson, Freddie, I managed to – almost literally! – throw this fabulous soup together for a hearty, warming lunch, which I ate with sourdough toast.
Simple Roasted Cauliflower Soup
- 1 cauliflower
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 large potato, peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 level teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- extra virgin olive oil
- boiling water (or stock if you have it)
Cut or pull away any limp, damaged outside leaves of the cauliflower. Trim the base. Then pull away the remaining leaves with their stems and cut into chunks. (There’s no need to throw away – they’re full of goodness and flavour too.) Now cut the head of cauliflower into quarters, then into smaller chunks. Put it into a large shallow ovenproof dish.
Add the onion and potato. I cut these into fairly small chunks – about 2cm cubes. Sprinkle over the cumin. Scatter over about a heaped teaspoon of sea salt (I like Maldon) and grate over a generous (if you’re like me) amount of black pepper. Drizzle over a good amount of extra virgin olive oil. Use your hands to mix it all together so the vegetables are well coated by the oil.
Put into a preheated oven (220C/200 Fan/Gas 7) for about 30-40 minutes. Take from the oven once twice to give a good stir so the top pieces of vegetables don’t burn – you just want some caramelisation for taste but burnt is bitter. The actual cooking time will vary according to the size of your vegetable chunks – test with a sharp knife.
Remove from the oven and with a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables into a large saucepan. Now pour some hot water or stock into the pan you cooked the vegetables in. Over the heat, warm through and scrape any of the gorgeous caramelised bits that have stuck to the pan into the water. Then pour over the vegetables. You want to just cover them. Blend with a stick blender until smooth.
Bring back to the boil, check seasoning, and you’re ready to serve.
I used water as the only stock I had was frozen and as I wanted to freeze portions of the soup, I couldn’t use it and then re-freeze. You can use stock cubes if you like, but I’m not keen on them, and the soup has plenty of flavour from the roasting of the vegetables.
I ate a portion straight away. It was an absolutely perfect and delicious light lunch. I got 4 good portions to freeze with the remaining soup.
It was not only wonderful to eat and enjoy, it was full of goodness as I’d used all organic ingredients. And really, aside from the cooking in the oven (during which time I went back to my desk and carried on working!), I could have spent no more than 5-10 minutes chopping vegetables and blending the soup at the end. Really, you could call that instant!