by Ellen Wallace
You come to the Alps in winter with expectations of glorious blue skies and pristine white slopes, accompanied by the warming tones of cheese fondue, raclette and gluh wine or laced coffee taken in the brisk outdoor air.
And then it rains. It is not supposed to do that between Christmas and New Year’s, but in 2009 it did. Tuesday night and Wednesday brought downpours and fog. thursday wasn’t much better. Many people went shopping. Some of us stayed home and felt sorry for ourselves – until we were inspired to try something new and different in the kitchen.
There were no children in the house, so I could serve up odd vegetables. This time of year I get tired of the limited fresh vegetables in the markets, cabbage and cauliflower, which remind me of over-boiled vegetables of my childhood. I am not a big fan of cauliflower, but I’d read a recipe on the NPR (National Public Radio) web site that intrigued me, for cauliflower and leek soup with roasted walnut garnish. I’d bought the cauliflower, but forgot to buy leeks. I happened to have some excellent sausage and brown bread in the house. So here is the original NPR recipe by Carla Hall, which I’ll have to try sometime, and my rainy day Swiss Alpine lunch variation, which cheered up two adults, a sign of success with any food. It has the added advantage of being kinder to those who want to keep down their cream and butter intake.
The snow returned, after we ate this.
Swiss Alps winter rainy day cauliflower soup4 servings
1 small head cauliflower
1 onion, preferably white
2-5 garlic cloves, to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 litre turkey stock (part of the treat of a Christmas bird)
75-100 gr = 1/2 packet of Chevroux goat cheese spread: fromage frais, to taste
150 cl / 1.6 qts. milk
1 egg yolk
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Fresh nutmeg to taste
8 toasted walnut halves
Chopped fresh parsley
1-2 tablespoons browned butter
- Wash and core the cauliflower. Reserve 8 tiny florets. Roughly chop the remaining cauliflower, onion and garlic.
- Roast the walnut halves in the oven, low heat (130-150° C / 266-302° F), 15 minutes, until lightly browned; take care not to burn them.
- In a large pot, heat 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and garlic and cook until soft, but not taking on any color, about 3 minutes.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onions and garlic and stir to combine. Gradually whisk in the stock. Bring slowly to a simmer, stirring as the mixture thickens. Add the chopped cauliflower and return to a slow simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to keep the bottom from sticking or burning until the cauliflower is fork-tender, 10-12 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat and puree the soup in a blender until smooth. The original “creamed” recipe calls for straining the soup at this point, but as the daughter of a US Great Depression mother, I find it hard to throw away the vegetable bits. Our mixture was not strained and as a result had a slight grittiness, which we enjoyed.
- In a small bowl, lightly whisk the egg yolk with the milk. Whisk a bit of the hot soup into the egg/milk mixture. Then whisk the mix into the soup.
- Place the pot over very low heat and stir continually, gently, to warm through. Add the goat cheese and continue to stir, always over low heat so you don’t scramble the egg yolk, until the cheese melts, 3-5 minutes; do not let it reach the simmering point.
- Blanch the cauliflower florets set aside at the start, while the cheese is melting.
- Adjust the soup seasoning with salt and pepper. Grate in fresh nutmeg to taste.
- In a small skillet or pot, melt the 1 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Keep the butter on heat until it turns a nutty brown. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Mix the tiny cauliflower florets and the toasted walnuts in a small bowl. Portion the soup into shallow bowls and top with the garnish. Drizzle with the brown butter, then chopped parsley.
We served this with Vaud sausage (saucisse de Vaud) and an excellent brown bread from Migros. The sausage is made by Reichenbach butchers in Aigle, canton Vaud, whose owner is president of the Vaudois butchers association. The group has applied for AOC status for the product. It is a naturally smoked sausage that is cooked whole.
A Vaud sausage should be simmered in nearly boiling water not more than 75° C / 167° F for an hour. The bread is an organic, sustainable-development product that has good flavour and keeps its moisture well, a nice complement to the soup and sausage.