When I read a cookbook, there are always recipes that stick in my mind, that I continue to think about for weeks. When they're recipes for things that aren't in season at the time, I make mental notes about what future occasions would be good opportunities to serve each particular dish. So, last year when I read Ad Hoc at Home and saw a lovely looking cream of cauliflower soup with beet chips, the winter vegetables and red and white colors made me think of Christmas. This being a Thomas Keller recipe and my first time trying this recipe, I didn't want to be making this on the actual day of Christmas. Instead, I chose a day during the holiday season when I had plenty of time to work my way through each step, use each and every pot, pan, and utensil I own, and then wash all of those dishes after dinner. Yes, it is a little bit of a process to follow the recipe exactly, but it all came together nicely to make a velvety smooth soup with crispy, crunchy, and tasty toppings.
The first step is to chop the cauliflower. Most of the cauliflower, including the stems, were cooked and pureed, but some florets were set aside for a garnish. For the puree, onion, leeks, coarsely chopped cauliflower, and some curry powder were cooked in melted butter. Equal amounts of milk, cream, and water were added, and it was left to simmer until the cauliflower was tender. The mixture was pureed in batches. To make things easier on the day you plan to serve the soup, this puree could be made in advance and just re-warmed before serving. Next, a red beet was peeled and thinly sliced on a Japanese mandoline. I used a candy cane striped chioggia beet from our farmers' market. The paper thin beet slices were fried in oil in a small saucepan and left to drain on a paper towel-lined rack. Then, the reserved cauliflower florets were blanched in water with a little vinegar. Keller notes that the vinegar helps keep the cauliflower white. The drained, florets were then sauteed in melted butter. At the same time, I also made the requisite torn croutons which were slowly browned in a mix of garlic oil and melted butter with the goal of the croutons absorbing the flavor of the oil and butter while taking on a crisp outer texture. The soup was served in wide bowls topped with the florets, then some torn croutons, a stack of beet chips, and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil. The other garnishes held the beet chips up and out of the soup so they stayed crisp.
All of the parts and pieces did make a spectacular soup. The rich and smooth puree was even better with the chunky and crunchy textures of the garnishes. Certainly, the soup puree could have been made in advance, but the beet chips are best when just fried and still crisp and warm. The croutons can be re-warmed, but they do become drier and lose the bit of give they have after just being browned. This soup was a great example of how simple, humble vegetables can become a dish that's the star of a meal.