It’s been very rainy and gray in Umbria these past few weeks, and once I feel the need to curl up in front of a roaring fire or layer up to keep warm, I begin craving a warm bowl of soup. Properly executed, it’s enough to make you feel good on even the nastiest of days. You can use just about any combination of ingredients to make a comforting pot of soup, but I tend to focus on seasonal local vegetables, along with some hearty regional grains.
On a recent trip to the outdoor market in Deruta, I came across some gorgeous heads of cauliflower and ended up buying two. I used just one of the heads in combination with roasted red peppers to make this creamy soup, and it made enough for several lunches. It’s flavored with little more than sautéed onion and garlic, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and a pinch of hot chili flakes. The roasted peppers add a nice smoky depth to the soup; if you feel so inclined, you can even step it up with a pinch of smoked paprika.
When it comes to puréed or creamy-textured soups, I avoid using dairy products or starchy thickeners and opt for an ordinary boiled potato, instead. The starch in the potato adds the thickness I like, without heavy cream’s calories or the grainy texture you can often get with starch-based thickeners like flour. I also find that when I thicken my soups with potato, they freeze better and retain that smooth texture once thawed and reheated.
When serving a creamy soup, it can look flat or boring without some type of garnish. You can garnish your soup with a drizzle of sour cream and some chopped fresh chives or thyme, or sauté up a crouton, apple, and pancetta mixture, as I do here. The croutons add a crunchy texture, the pancetta a salty bite, and the apples a little sweetness that works beautifully with this type of soup.
Deborah Mele 2013
- 4 Large Sweet Red Bell Peppers, Cored, Stemmed, Seeded, and Pressed Flat
- 4 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
- 1 Small Onion, Chopped (About 3/4 Cup)
- 2 Medium Garlic Cloves, Chopped (About 2 Teaspoons)
- 1 Teaspoon Kosher Salt, Plus More to Taste
- 1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper, Plus More to Taste
- 1/2 Teaspoon Hot Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 Teaspoons Finely Chopped Fresh Thyme Leaves
- 1/2 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika (optional)
- 1 Quart Homemade or Store-bought Low-sodium Chicken Stock (See Note Above)
- 1 Medium Russet Potato, Peeled and Chopped (About 1 Cup)
- 1 Head of Cauliflower, Core Removed, Cut Into Florets
- 1 Teaspoon Freshly Squeezed Juice From 1 Lemon
- 1/3 Cup Pancetta, Finely Chopped (See Note Above)
- 1/2 Medium Apple, Peeled, Cored, and Cut Into 1/2 Inch Dice (About 1/2 Cup)
- 2 Slices of Crusty Italian Bread Cut Into 1/2 Inch Dice (About 1 Cup)
- Preheat the broiler to high, and place the peppers on a foil lined baking sheet.
- Place the peppers on a shelf about 4 inches below the heating element and broil until blistered and blackened, then place in a plastic bag and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
- Once cool enough to handle, use a knife and peel the blackened skin off the pepper under running water.
- Coarsely chop the peppers and set aside.
- In a heavy saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-low heat until shimmering, then add the onions and cook until tender, stirring often, about 4 minutes.
- Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute longer.
- Add 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, red pepper flakes, thyme, paprika, and chicken or vegetable broth and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat to a simmer, then add the potato and cauliflower and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
- Cool for 15 minutes, then purée in batches along with the roasted peppers, until very smooth (see note above).
- Stir in the lemon juice, season to taste with more salt and pepper, and keep warm on low heat until ready to serve.
- To Serve: Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until lightly smoking, then add the pancetta and apples and cook, stirring and tossing frequently, until the apples are tender and the pancetta is beginning to brown, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the diced bread, and cook, carefully stirring to prevent burning, until the bread has crisped and begun to brown, about 4 minutes longer.
- Season with the black pepper.
- Ladle the soup into individual bowls, then garnish with a scoop of the pancetta flavored croutons. Serve immediately.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 2 cups
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 362 Total Fat: 21g Saturated Fat: 4g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 16g Cholesterol: 9mg Sodium: 1174mg Carbohydrates: 36g Fiber: 8g Sugar: 13g Protein: 11g