These first couple months of the New Year are often a time to come down from the craze of the holidays, return to some healthier eating habits, and if you are lucky you can spend some time cozying up near a fire reading a book, cuddling up on the couch with a favorite movie, or warming up your kitchen with a simmering pot of soup.
For me making a pot of soup that is packed with vegetables is the easiest way to undo the gluttony that occurred between Thanksgiving and New Years. This Roasted Cauliflower and Fennel Soup quickly became my favorite lunch in January. By themselves cauliflower and fennel have a subtle flavor, but together, roasted in the oven, their natural sweetness is coaxed out.
Once removed from the oven the roasted vegetables are mixed into a pot of chicken or vegetables stock along with delicious aromatics that have been sautéed on the stove top, bay leaves and then one super sneaky ingredient….Two tablespoons of uncooked white rice!
The addition of the white rice, once the soup is pureed, gives a luscious and velvety texture to the soup so that it feels like you have made the richest and creamiest cauliflower soup, however you have instead made a super duper healthy bowl full of love, which is I believe the definition of a great bowl of soup!
I think that eating soup should feel like a great big hug. Whether you are sipping away it out of a mug at your desk at work, or if you are serving it up at home along with a chunk of crusty fresh bread, those first few spoonfuls should make you close your eyes for a second and feel happy inside.
This is how I like my New Year’s resolution food to be. Packed with vegetables, but still “souper” delicious! Sorry, I just had too! Recently I made this soup as part of a TV segment on cooking with the lesser loved winter vegetables – in this case fennel. Here is the clip from the show!
Give soup a chance as we enter the home stretch of winter! It is easy to want to fill your kitchen with delicious cheesy casseroles and other rich wintery delights, but I promise, a fabulous soup can feel just as cozy and comforting as those hearty dishes and with a few simple tricks, ingredients as healthy as cauliflower and fennel can feel like something truly decadent!
Roasted Cauliflower and Fennel Soup
1 Large Head of Cauliflower (about 8 cups florets)
3 Large Fennel Bulbs
¼ Cup Olive Oil
2 Leeks, white and light green parts only
½ Cup Shallots, Sliced
2 Tbsp. Garlic, minced
2 Ribs of Celery, sliced into half-moons
2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter (or Olive Oil if you wish to make this dairy free)
¼ Cup White Wine
2 Quarts Chicken Stock or Water
2 Bay Leaves, fresh or dry
2 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
2 Tbsp. Uncooked White Rice
2 Tbsp. Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
Preheat the oven to 425⁰F. While the oven is preheating, break the cauliflower down into florets – they don’t have to be perfect and keeping a lot of stem on is totally OK. Next, slice each of the fennel bulbs into 6 or 8 wedges. In a large mixing bowl toss the cauliflower and fennel with the Olive Oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and one teaspoon of white pepper. Spread the cauliflower and fennel onto two large baking sheets and roast in the oven until tender and dark, 30 – 40 minutes. While roasting the vegetables give them a stir once or twice and rotate the pans after about 20 minutes if you are roasting them on two racks. When the vegetables have some nice dark bits on them, take the pans out of the oven and set aside.
While the vegetables are roasting prepare the aromatics. In a sauté pan over medium low heat, melt the butter (or heat the olive oil if you wish to make dairy free) and then add the leeks, shallots, garlic and celery. Sauté them together for about 10 – 15 minutes. Once they are soft and translucent turn the heat up to medium high and add in the white wine. Simmer until the wine has reduced and completely cooked into the aromatics and remove the pan from the heat.
Once the vegetables are roasted and the aromatics are cooked add them all into a large soup pot. To the pot add the chicken stock or water, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, rice, 2 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon white pepper and bring to a boil. Once it comes to a boil, turn the heat down and bring the pot to a simmer, loosely cover the pot and simmer the ingredients together for about 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes take the soup off of the heat and remove the bay leaves and the thyme. Working in 2 or 3 batches ladle the soup into a blender or food processer and process until it is super smooth. Pour each pureed soup into a large mixing bowl or a fresh soup pot, and repeat the process until all the ingredients have been puréed. If you want to use an immersion blender you most certainly can but for this soup I prefer the blender because it offers a super smooth result.
Once all of the soup has been blended return the pot with the purée to the stove, add 1 more teaspoon salt and the lemon juice. Slowly bring it up to a bubble. You will see the soup is thick and velvety, If you wish for it to have thinner consistency add some water or a bit more stock until you get the consistency that you like, taste again for salt and pepper.
Once the soup is hot it is ready to be served. It is lovely with garlicy croutons on top, or you can also drizzle it with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle the top with the delicate fronds from the fennel stalk. Other nice garnishes would be finely chopped roasted cauliflower florets, or a punchy gremolata!! But most importantly, don’t forget to serve it with some amazing bread!
This soup can absolutely be made ahead of time and portioned out into smaller containers and put in the freezer for a rainy day. If you freeze it be prepared for it’s texture to be a little bit grainy and strange once it thaws. Don’t fret! Simply pour the soup into the blender for a few seconds, or zip it right in it’s container with an immersion blender and it will smooth right out again. Once you heat it up you won’t even notice a difference!