Friday, January 17, 2014

inspiration: the populist's cauliflower + pear soup with help from Food52

Ladies night boils down to this: great food, wonderful conversation, a few drinks and good friends. It's absolutely essential to my mental well-being and I'm quite certain that it makes me a better mother. I return home feeling refreshed and renewed and I should probably do it more often...

Back in November my friend Jo Ellen and I went to The Populist, one of Denver's best restaurants according to pretty much everyone. Now The Populist isn't cheap and ladies night isn't always this high-brow. Most of the time I opt for hole-in-the-wall type places that serve hummus platters, tacos, pho or Ethiopian food. But this get-together was special since my friend gave birth to her third child and this was our first time out together since mid-summer. We also really wanted to try the restaurant and the post-baby celebration gave us good cover. So on a chilly November night we went out on the town, got to the restaurant and sat down at our table shortly after we finished our first round at the bar (and yes, the cocktails were excellent). 

Now here's the thing about the meal: I'm still thinking about it. It was stellar. Exceptional! We ordered a bowl of cauliflower + pear soup, the butternut squash salad, curried chick peas and for my entree I chose the huitlacoche ("the Mexican truffle") agnolotti. Now I'm more of what you'd call a home cook and I thought the agnolotti was above my chef grade. But I'm really comfortable in the soup realm and so I though I'd take a stab at the cauliflower + pear. 

I scoured the internet for a recipe and found this one from the Food52 Community. It got great reviews and sounded like it would work really well. It was simple, straightforward and could be made using a cutting board and one pot (a.k.a. not much to clean). I loved the flavor of the pear and the sherry made it pop. Was it similar to The Populist's version? Not really. It was missing the dehydrated pear, which really adds a lot of texture, and it wasn't quite as smooth. But it was very good and the boys ate it by the bowlful. And in my book that's a success story. Next time I might serve it alongside some grilled cheese sandwiches. 

In case you were wondering how we finished off our ladies night...we concluded the meal with an excellent slice of lemon ice box cake that was lip-smacking good. I can't wait to go back to The Populist again and sit in their outdoor patio (that's covered with vines) once winter passes...

In the meantime, keep warm and enjoy the soup.

Cauliflower and Pear Soup (Adapted only slightly from Food52)
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter (you can make this vegan by omitting the butter and adding another tablespoon of olive oil)
1 large leek, white and light green parts, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
1 head cauliflower, green leaves and trunk removed, florets chopped
2 small yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 medium sized pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
5 leaves fresh sage (or about 2 teaspoons chopped)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
5 cups homemade vegetable stock or good quality store-bought
kosher salt + freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons sherry vinegar, or to taste (champagne vinegar also works)
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives, for serving (optional)

Heat the oil and butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the leek and the shallot, and cook until they are soft, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add the cauliflower, potato, pear, sage, and thyme, stirring to thoroughly coat them with the oil and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, stirring frequently, another 8 to 10 minutes. You're aiming for a little caramelization around the edges for depth of flavor.

Add 5 cups of vegetable stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat to just maintain the simmer, and cook until all of the ingredients are very tender, about 30 minutes.

With an immersion blender or regular blender, puree the soup until it’s smooth. If you're using a blender, you may need to do this step in batches, then return the soup to the pot. You're looking for a smooth, velvety texture, so take your time to blend thoroughly. Thin with more chicken stock, if needed, until you reach desired consistency.

Season to taste with vinegar and salt and pepper (this is key!). Serve the soup in heated bowls, garnished with chives...or with large pieces of french baguette (I picked up mine from Babette's at The Source). 

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  1. Could you use apple cider vinegar?

    1. Hmmm, you know, I'm not sure. I usually use apple cider vinegar in salad dressings and for vegetable drizzles (like butternut squash) and I've never used it in soup. It's an interesting idea. I'll google it…but I'd say that the sherry vinegar really adds something.

  2. This looks AMAZING! Thanks for posting it. The Populist is on my top 5 list- now I'll bump it into first place. Everyone raves about it.

    1. Hi Robin, It's a good soup and a simple recipe…which works well in my life right now :) Definitely head to The Populist. It's one of the best. Another place that should be on your list: Beast + Bottle. Pricy, but EXCELLENT! Happy eats. And thanks for the comment!