The Aleph

You probably think I’ve been doing so much food trucking lately that I have left my own kitchen high and dry. This is certainly not the case, however. There is much, much more than just Gozer the Gozerian in my refrigerator. The truth is I have been cooking up a storm lately. The weather shift has finally, permanently, moved us into considerably cooler realms (I even used the fireplace in my living room for the first time, last night!), which means cozy, comfy foodnesseseses.

Very recently, I have been experimenting with a meatloaf recipe (which is driving me mad), attempting to perfect the brown crust on a grilled steak, slow-roasted a chicken, playing with brussels sprouts and hazelnuts and browned butter (!), and mastering the art of pizza dough. I also made a ridiculously scrumptious cauliflower soup.

The other day, I bought a head of cauliflower at the market with no specific design for it in mind. Although I have no disinclination towards cauliflower, I really have never fully embraced all that it has to offer. I have often cut it into florets and roasted it with ghee and garam masala (I do so love Aloo Gobi and other Indian dishes with cauliflower), but that’s pretty much the extent of my own cauliflower kitchen times.

Aesthetically and conceptually, I have always been drawn to cauliflower’s fractal dimension. This vegetable is boundless - there is no end to it. You can look at it in its entirety but you can never see all of it You will always be finding something new. It's quite possible that when you look at a portion of this vegetable, you may be looking at something that nobody has ever seen before. From every angle of the universe, I suddenly see that my cauliflower is the most complex, beautiful and unique thing in all the land. The cauliflower is me. The cauliflower is you.

So I figured I best do something special with this one. I needed to think hard. I knew I wanted to roast the cauliflower first, to have those wonderful, enhanced nutty flavors. But I needed to find an accent that rivaled the complexity and richness of this cauliflower. And then it hit me: saffron.

Each saffron flower only contains three of the yellow orange stigmas that must be hand picked, making it the world’s most expensive spice – worth more than its weight in gold, in fact. Sanjay Thumma says, "in India its color is considered the epitome of beauty and is the official color of Buddhist robes. Saffron was used to scent the baths and public halls of Imperial Rome." Francis Bacon wrote of saffron, “it maketh the English sprightly”. It's pungent with honey nuttiness. It's both mighty and diaphanous, and it is divine.

And what platform, for me, to better to showcase these two utterly perfect gems than, of course, a soup. I am extremely happy with this recipe, I must admit. It’s seasonal, snuggly, rich, earthy and, yet, entirely delicate. This soup elicits a myriad of textures and flavors. It’s infinite.

*My friend, Brandon had better scramble to the kitchen to prepare this recipe, whether he's a cook or not. It's just simply too fitting.

Roasted Cauliflower Soup with Saffron and Asiago Cheese Crisps
Serves 6
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
2 shallots chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 teaspoon coarsely crumbled saffron threads
3 Tablespoons butter
1 small onion chopped
1 cup half and half
Salt and pepper to taste
6 Tablespoons grated Asiago cheese

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Cut cauliflower into 1-inch flowerets (about 10 cups). In a large baking pan toss cauliflower, garlic, and shallots with oil to coat and roast in middle of oven about 30 minutes, or until golden.
Combine 2 cups water and 2 cups low-salt chicken broth in medium saucepan. Bring mixture just to simmer. Remove from heat. Add saffron threads. Cover and steep 20 minutes.
Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until very tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add cauliflower, shallots and garlic pieces; stir to coat. Add saffron broth. Bring to simmer over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until cauliflower pieces are tender, about 20 minutes.
Working in batches, puree cauliflower mixture in food processor until smooth. Transfer cauliflower puree to large saucepan. Stir in half and half and bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.)
Place the grated cheese on a baking sheet, shaped in 6 small discs. Bake at 350°F for 5-8 minutes.
Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with Asiago cheese crisps and serve.

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