Cauliflower Soup by Steve Sharafian (Courtesy: Steve Sharafian)

Steve Sharafian’s Favorite Cauliflower Soup


“This soup (Courtesy: might seem plain, but trust us. Paul Bertolli, who was at the helm of Chez Panisse and Oliveto for over 20 years, knows exactly how to make a vegetable become the best it can be. This recipe comes from Cooking by Hand, Bertolli’s IACP award-winning book of recipes and essays, and makes for a soup that’s delicate, sweet, and smooth as a flannel scarf.” — Genius Recipes

SAN FRANCISCO — Cauliflower is low in calories yet high in vitamins. Whether it is roasted, mashed or added to soups and casseroles, there’s an endless number of ways to cook cauliflower. Like this modest yet impressive soup recipe contributed by Steven Sharafian at his brilliant “A Serious Bunburyist” food blog.

“From the many soup recipes I have collected through the years, a number of them really stand out. These recipes share the same qualities: a few simple ingredients that in a short amount of time transform into something delicious. One example is the Potato and Leek Soup in Richard Olney’s Simple French Food (1974). Another one is this Cauliflower Soup in Paul Bertolli’s Cooking by Hand (2003),” says Steve.

Cooking by Hand is a personal, thoughtful and truly outstanding cookbook. It shares a number of qualities with Olney’s Simple French Food and Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail series. Bertolli is passionate about cooking. He seeks to honor yet advance food traditions. The first section of his book, entitled Cleaning the Fresco, speaks to this theme. The cooking that makes sense to Bertolli is “food grounded in a tradition, yet enlivened by the act of greeting the process and the ingredients anew.” The recipes in this chapter include Vitello Tonnato, a poached veal loin served in a rich tuna sauce; Artichokes Braised in Olive Oil; Potato Gnocchi with Butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano; and his recipe for Cauliflower Soup.

Cauliflower originally came from the Mediterranean region and arrived in Europe around the end of the 15th century. It has been grown and eaten across Europe since then but did not start growing in the United States until the 1900s.

Today, California produces more cauliflower than any other state. Cauliflower is grown in the Salinas Valley — also called the “Salad Bowl of the World.” The growing season can last 10 months due to its moderate climate and rich soil. Other states that grow cauliflower include Arizona, Florida, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. It is also grown in Wisconsin and can be found at farmers markets in September and October.

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While white is the most common color, you’ll also find cauliflower in shades of orange, purple, and green. No matter the color, the taste is the same: mild, slightly sweet, a little nutty.

“What struck me when I first read Bertolli’s Cauliflower Soup recipe were its simple ingredients,” says Steve, “The soup’s base is water. The only vegetables are onions and cauliflower which is rich in pectin that creates a ‘refined smoothness’ when puréed. The only other ingredients are salt, pepper and olive oil.”

Bertolli writes: ‘This soup is a good example of the austere requirements of certain foods: that the clearest expression of their flavor suggests adding next to nothing. This soup is plain but plainly good.’”


3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, 6 ounces, sliced thin

1 pound 6 ounces fresh cauliflower


5 1/2 cups hot water

Extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper



Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat without letting it brown for 15 minutes. Add the cauliflower, salt to taste, and 1/2 cup water, raise the heat slightly, and cover the pot tightly. Stew the cauliflower for 15 to 18 minutes, or until tender.

Add another 4 1/2 cups of hot water, bring to a low simmer, and cook an additional 20 minutes. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender to a very smooth, creamy consistency.

Let the soup stand for 20 minutes. In this time it will thicken slightly. Thin the soup with 1/2 cup water. Reheat the soup. Serve hot, drizzled with a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper.

Tip from Steve: “Some final thoughts. Do not succumb to a desire to enrich the soup by adding butter or cream. The soup is perfect as is. Its flavor is clean, deep and rich; the cauliflower almost tastes roasted. I have made this soup using an immersion mixer and the results are still fine. Use extreme caution when blending hot ingredients, especially if using an upright blender. Always work in small batches only filling one-quarter or less of the jar.”

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To order, Cooking by Hand: A Cookbook Hardcover – August 19, 2003 by Paul Bertolli (Author) go to:

Paul Bertolli, renowned chef and author, launched Fra’ Mani Handcrafted Foods in March 2006 in Berkeley, California. He serves as the Curemaster of Fra’ Mani and is responsible for all product development and creation. Paul’s maternal grandfather was a salumiere and his love of salumi was ignited at a young age while savoring prosciutto and soppressata vicentina from his grandfather’s cellars. In 1985, Chef Bertolli was included in Esquire magazine’s registry of “Men and Women Under 40 Who Are Changing the Nation,” and chosen as an honoree in “Who’s Who of Cooking in America,” a national award designed to pay tribute to 25 individuals most directly involved in shaping, refining and improving  American cuisine. In 1988, Random House published his first book, Chez Panisse Cooking. In 2003, Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, published his book Cooking by Hand, which contains a substantial chapter on cured meats. Cooking by Hand received an IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) award, that recognizes excellence in cookbook writing.

Cauliflower Soup recipe © 2003 Paul Bertolli.

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