This winter the planets aligned to give me an Epic Cauliflower Soup and I insist that you make it at once. See recipe below. The end.
Ok, ok, I am physically incapable of stopping there so before you get off the couch to cook, let me give you the background. This recipe was first handed to me by a friend who was so in love with this soup that she had to share it immediately. I promptly made it and – á la Lyn – swooned helplessly into its warm, mellow, creaminess and the topping of chewy sprinkles. Not long after I spent a week at home in New Zealand, relishing the winter chill, the sodden, muddy ground and roaring fires every night (photos to come – updated, see photos here). At one point Mum made a big pot of cauliflower soup using similar ingredients to Lyn’s recipe but including crème fraîche, which added a delicious cheesy-tang. My nine-month-old nephew loved that soup, opening his mouth like a baby bird to devour spoonful after spoonful. Fortunately his little stomach filled up quickly, leaving enough for us to enjoy it again the next day.
Back in Brisbane I tinkered with Lyn’s original recipe, using crème fraîche instead of cream, skipping the potatoes and adding a bunch of parsnips that were languishing in the fridge. In the third iteration the parsnips stayed because of the sweetness they added and I used Greek yoghurt for that now essential hint of zing. This soup started out great but, in my humble opinion, these slight enhancements mean that it is now knee-weakening, lip-smacking, mind-blowingly good. Happy belly, happy life.
You can eat the soup on its own but I do have to say something about the topping: the bacon sprinkle, which is all kinds of amazing. This is noteworthy because I don’t really like bacon (I’m sorry). They say that nothing will break a vegetarian faster than the smell of frying bacon (it’s not called “the gateway” meat for nothing) but I remained unwaveringly immune to its charms while vegetarian. Even deep into my meat-curious phase when I was sampling most carnivorous offerings, bacon just stressed me out (too strong, too salty, too greasy, too full of preservatives). Happily, it turns out that I’ve spent my entire life eating (or rather, avoiding) the wrong kind of bacon. Backfatters is a local Queensland business that farms free range heritage pigs and uses an extract of celery to cure the meat. I don’t know if it’s the happy pigs or the lack of chemicals, but these guys are onto something. I’m not about to eat a bacon sandwich just yet but Backfatters’ Maple-Smoked Bacon is utterly delectable in these sprinkles. The rind crisps and caramelises in the oven but somehow remains unctuous and chewy. I’m going to say that again…crispy, caramelised, unctuous, chewy. Fork…YES (not sponsored).
Just make the soup, you’ll understand.
Cauliflower & Parsnip Soup with Bacon Sprinkles
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large cauliflower (about 1 kg), cut into florets
3-4 medium parsnips (about 400g), peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
1.5 litres (6 cups) chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche
80g parmesan cheese, finely grated
3-4 rashers of bacon, finely chopped
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sweat for a couple of minutes. Add the celery and garlic and a good pinch of salt and fry for a further 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add three-quarters of the cauliflower, three-quarters of the parsnips, the bay leaves and chicken stock. Cover, bring to the boil and simmer until the vegetables are cooked to the point where they break up easily when pressed with a spoon – about 15 minutes.
While the soup is cooking, preheat the oven to 200°C / 395°F. Line a large baking tray with foil. Finely chop the reserved cauliflower and parsnip and cut the bacon into tiny dice. Toss these onto the prepared tray and scatter with rosemary (if desired), freshly ground black pepper and a glug of olive oil. Toss to combine and then spread out on the tray. Grate the parmesan cheese and sprinkle 2-3 Tbsp over the vegetables and bacon, reserving the rest. Bake for 10-15 minutes until the vegetable are browned and the bacon is crispy.
Finish the soup by removing the bay leaves then blending the vegetables and stock until completely smooth. Add the Greek yoghurt or crème fraîche and reserved parmesan cheese and stir through until melted and combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve in bowls topped with the bacon sprinkles and chopped fresh parsley, if desired.