You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

venerdì 3 febbraio 2012

Soup of the Evening, Beautiful Soup

One of the last teachers was an Algerian with a bright eye and ear. “What,” he asked me with a subtle air of impudent challenge, for he was politically wary and like to ascribe this wariness to cultural gaps (mine, not his), “is a beautiful sentence to you – a perfect phrase?” Without any thought, I answered, “Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup.”

- M.F.K. Fisher, With Bold Knife and Fork

It’s cold here in Tuscany, thanks to winds from Siberia which assaulted our shores two nights ago and dumped a pile of snow in our back yard – indeed, in many an Italian back yard. We receive mixed signals about how long this is going to last: two weeks, says one school of thought. All month, says another.

Both are horrifying. It’s not supposed to snow in this part of the world, the land of silver-gray olive trees, and rustling cypresses. At this time of year, it’s supposed to snow in places like Connecticut, where a friend reports that the temperature yesterday was 59°F. A Canadian friend in Toronto wrote to say that we were receiving the snow intended for them.

This is the first snow fall for the Puppers, and they revel in it. Many years ago, when Tillie experienced her first snow fall in upstate New York, she minced her way through it. Not these Puppers: they attacked it with gusto, and spent the first morning after the snow fall ignoring freezing temperatures. They opted to spend the entire morning outside thrashing around.

We, instead, have not. We’ve hunkered down. Hunkering down, culinary-speaking – and of what else do I write? – means carbohydrates, and lots of ‘em. Last night’s dinner was baked polenta with a venison ragù. The venison couldn’t have been more local (we probably knew it when it was a deer), and organic to boot. We’d been eating it for a couple of days, and were somewhat tired of it, but it was Canine Inappropriate, as I’d laced the sauce with generous amounts of dark chocolate (can be toxic to dogs) and hot pepper (our dogs like hot food).

The mixed greens/sliced cucumber/mushroom salad went untouched. Instead we went for the goat/cow’s cheese, a nutty, totally satisfying cheese from Switzerland. We would have gone for another cheese from Switzerland, a soft, supple cow’s milk cheese embedded in herbs, but Harry got to it while I was engrossed in a book. The Scallion caught him at the end, munching on a piece of toast. Oh well.

The first day of the snow, we invited the Scallion’s mother to lunch, and we started with a cauliflower soup with Parmesan cheese. Two nights ago it was Jane Grigson’s most delicious vegetable soup, made different by the addition of crushed allspice berries. We ignored the salad then, too. Tonight it will be Jane’s cauliflower/fennel soup (both are in season just now).

To my mind, it’s hard to get excited about cauliflower – unless it forms part of a perfectly formed curry laced with so much spice it all but disappears – or if the florets are fried, as they do them at a lovely trattoria in Florence.

The English have a dish called cauliflower cheese, and though there are variations on it, it tastes pretty much like it sounds.

“Cauliflower,” writes the late, great Alan Davidson, “[is] a variety of the common CABBAGE in which flowers have begun to form but have stopped growing at the bud stage … [it is] therefore richer in vitamins and minerals than other brassicas.” He then goes on to say that we really don’t know where it comes from – perhaps the Near East (doesn’t it seem as if most everything hails from there?) or Cyprus. Or more likely, the Arabs (if not the Near East, then Arabia).

Well, a couple of days ago I had a head of cauliflower, and I had some cheese … in this case, not just any cheese, but a superlatively good hunk of Parmesan picked up in … yes, Parma. Hence the following recipe.

The book I was absorbed in (Dorothy Whipple’s They Knew Mr. Knight) when Harry ate the cheese has a paragraph that had me scratching my head – not because of the book (Dorothy Whipple is marvelous) but because of the nature of the comfort food.

The breadwinner of the family, Thomas Blake, has just come home from a most trying day. He has a ne’er-do-well brother, Edward.

“Did you see Edward?” asked Celia.

“I saw him,” said Thomas grimly. He was reluctant to say more, but Celia, with wifely disregard of his reluctance, persisted.

“What did you do about it?”

“Oh, I’ve taken him on at the works,” admitted Thomas, frowning.

“Have some more cauliflower,” invited Celia soothingly.

Zuppa di cavolfiore con Parmigiano/Cauliflower soup with Parmesan cheese

6 c. cauliflower florets
1½ c. leek, white part only, finely chopped
2 T. butter
4 c. vegetable broth
1 c. white wine
1½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Grated nutmeg, optional
¼ c. cream, optional

Prepare the vegetables before starting out.

Melt the butter in a deep pan over medium heat, and add the leek. Cook ‘til softened but not golden or browned. Add the cauliflower, toss to coat, and pour in the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes (or until the cauliflower is pliant). Add the wine about halfway through.

Remove from the stove, let cool slightly, and press through a food mill on a medium blade (if you want a more refined soup, run it through again on the smallest blade; if you don’t have a food mill or are simply lazy, throw it into a blender).

Return the contents into the pan, and add a couple of gratings of nutmeg and/or the cream.

Serve immediately.


Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, New York, 1999.
M.F.K. Fisher, “Especially of the Evening,” in With Bold Knife and Fork, Berkeley, 1968.
Jane Grigson, English Food, London, 1974.
Dorothy Whipple, They Knew Mr. Knight, London, 2003 (reprint). See

For fried cauliflower florets, take yourself to lunch (no dinner)at da Sergio, Piazza San Lorenzo 8/r, 055/281 941, closed Sundays. Or make your own: see Marcella Hazan’s in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, New York, 1992.

In Memoriam: Cocco (b. 2003 - d. 2 February 2012): a most noble, loving golden retriever. He's now in most excellent company in the Happy Hunting Ground, and will be sorely missed by Terry and all who knew him.

10 commenti:

  1. What a lovely, cozy post, dear P. Perfect for a wintery morning in my bathrobe :) You are so soothing to read. And all your food sounds wonderful: venison polenta, cauliflower cheese soup, etc. I imagine you hunkered in your house, fire going in the stove, dogs dining on good cheese, a good book in hand, something simmering invitingly on the stove--and all seems right with the world indeed. Keep warming our spirits with your writing!

    1. Thank you, dear E. Unfortunately, I suspect there's more where that came from, as this weather really doesn't seem to be abating, does it? Guess what's for lunch? Risotto! Guess what my next recipe will be? Risotto! xxx

  2. Beautiful post, P! Even Husband wants to try the soup, and the venison with chocolate sound divine. I'll be adding the Whipple book to my snowed-in reading list. PS- Did the salad meet it's maker in the compost pile? Thanks for keeping me warm, D

  3. Carissima Papaya - Wow! Husband eating vegetables. Now that's news ... Can't get enough of DW -- this my 3rd (didn't I give you one last year?).

    Salad still is crisp in the refrigerator. We'll try again today at lunch. And then at dinner.

    Thanks for reading me, dear D.

    1. Dear P- Yes, you gave me Someone at a Distance, which I adored. I will be reopen it tonight, as the flakes continue to fall. More blog, please!

    2. Add The Priory and They Knew Mr. Knight to your list ... or meet me for lunch in Fi and I'll lend them to you. Maybe more blog tomorrow, oddly, since it continues white outside.

  4. Auntie F's Cauliflower Cheese
    This recipe is without exact amounts and relies on full fat dairy products for success - Don't be tempted to skimp in order to spare the cholesterol levels.

    Head of Cauliflower
    Bechamel sauce
    Strong cheddar or equivalent
    Strong mustard
    Bread crumbs and parmesan cheese

    Blanche the cauliflower and divide the florets
    Make a generous amount of rich bechamel sauce (butter only!)
    Add small amounts of salt, generous amounts of pepper and huge amounts of full fat cheddar cheese
    Add a good dollop of strong (english if possible) mustard
    Place the florets in an oven proof dish and pour the cheese sauce over so it covers the cauliflower
    Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese (and more cheddar if you like)
    Cook in the oven until bubbly and golden brown.

    Delicious with sausages.

    1. Thank you, Auntie F! It sounds absolutely delicious.

  5. For someone who doesn't like cauliflower, it sounds like a hell of a soup.