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Transform a popular autumn veggie into an elegant first course for Thanksgiving

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Content Agency on

Cauliflower is the new Brussels sprout. Or maybe it's the new kale. Whatever the latest vegetable trends may be where you happen to live, it's a fairly safe bet that you're beginning to see more of this ivory-hued member of the Brassica family -- which also includes cabbages and broccoli -- among the first-course and side-dish offerings on top restaurant menus.

With its pale color and relatively mild flavor that combines pleasing hints of nuttiness, sweetness and bitterness, cauliflower really is a sort of blank canvas that invites creativity. I've seen it separated into florets and either caramelized or battered and deep-fried; roasted whole or sliced into steaks and grilled; separated into florets that were tossed with cheese sauce for a cauliflower gratin, or riced and pan-fried to make cauliflower hash browns; or pureed for a light and delicate alternative to mashed potatoes.

So, as you make your menu plans for Thanksgiving, I hope you'll find a way to include cauliflower on your family table. To help inspire you, I'd like to share one of my favorite recipes for creamy cauliflower soup as a first course option.

Keeping cauliflower's gentle flavor in mind, I begin making the soup with a classic aromatic base of yellow onion and garlic, which I saute for several minutes to reduce their harshness when raw and develop their natural sweetness. I then add the sliced-up raw cauliflower and patiently cook it over very low heat, covered; it's an hour-long process that enhances the vegetable's flavor and turns it absolutely tender.

Then, into the pot goes chicken stock (you can substitute vegetable stock if you want a vegetarian version) along with a little heavy cream (substitute your favorite unsweetened nut milk for a vegan version), chopped tomato, a little cumin, a hint of sugar and some fresh herbs, all of which help develop an extra subtle dimension of flavor as the ingredients simmer together.

Though the entire cooking process will take you about an hour and a half from start to finish, much of that is devoted to sauteing and simmering that call for minimal involvement by you, so you'll be free to work on other elements of the meal. Or you could even make the soup a day ahead, let it cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate it in a covered container overnight. Before serving time, gently reheat the soup, thinning it if necessary with a little extra stock.

I hope this recipe solves another key piece of your Thanksgiving menu puzzle. Maybe your guests will even remark on how innovative and exciting your first-course is!

CREAMY CAULIFLOWER SOUP

Makes about 3 quarts (3 l), 8 to 12 servings

2 large heads cauliflower, about 5 pounds (2.5 kg) total weight, trimmed and rinsed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup (60 mL) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

1 large yellow onion, peeled, trimmed, and sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

Kosher salt

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1 medium tomato, briefly dipped in boiling water to loosen the peel, cooled in ice water, and then peeled, seeded, and diced

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

Pinch of sugar

Freshly ground white pepper

1 bay leaf

2 or 3 sprigs fresh thyme

2 quarts (2 L) good-quality canned chicken stock or vegetable stock

1 cup (250 mL) heavy cream

Chopped fresh chives, for garnish

With a sharp knife, cut the heads of cauliflower into thin slices. Set aside.

Put the butter and olive oil in a medium stockpot over low heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cauliflower and stir to combine with the onion and garlic. Lightly season with salt, and cover the pot.

Continue cooking covered, stirring often, until the cauliflower is completely tender, almost mushy, about 1 hour. Stir in the tomato, cumin, sugar, white pepper to taste, bay leaf, thyme and stock. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Stir in the cream. When the soup returns to a boil, remove the pot from the heat. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Puree the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender. Or, working in batches and carefully following the manufacturer's instructions to guard against spattering the hot liquid, puree the soup by pulsing the machine on and off; transfer each batch to a large heatproof bowl. While the soup is still hot, taste it and adjust the seasonings as needed.

Before serving, reheat the soup over low heat. Ladle it into warmed bowls. Drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some chives over each serving. Serve immediately.

(c) 2017 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
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