Checking out of the Safeway this weekend (the undisputed hub of sociological observation), I was reminded that fall means different things to different people.
I’ve already confessed not knowing very much about this well-loved game, but I nevertheless relish every bit of lively banter emerging from the lips of patrons and clerks as I catch snippets of information and predictions. I also find myself anticipating the somewhat corny but hopelessly contagious sounds of the high school marching band booming across the street from us during Friday night home games.
A new season, a new reason to cheer.
So what does fall mean to you…
I think about picking apples with my younger boys, mountains lit with orange and red, and the smell of wood burning. I picture brooding skies, harvest moons and autumn rains soaking into my shoes. Lazy afternoons wrapped in over-sized blankets, the scent of vanilla, cinnamon and clove but most of all maybe, autumn comes to me in the morning. The cold under my feet when I first touch the floor, the wind lashing at my cheeks, the warmth of tea in my cupped hands.
Soup is one of those pleasures I rarely tire of. Rewarding and delicious, it’s easy to make in batches for a large number of people (great for the holiday season) and it freezes well too.
This particular recipe takes advantage of a simple oven roasting method to draw out flavor. The result is as a gently sweet autumnal soup with delicate notes of anise and nutmeg coupled with the aromatics of garlic and onion.
If you’re not familiar with fennel bulb, it has a subtle anise (licorice) flavor that is not especially punchy in this soup but adds some nice dimension. It’s very easy to work with so don’t be intimidated. Treat it much like you would a yellow onion in this recipe by cutting away the bulb portion from the celery-like stalk and simply chopping.
The flavors in this soup develop over time so consider saving a little for later to compare. As always, be sure to read the Notes in the recipe card below for best results and substitution ideas.
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 medium fennel bulb, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
- ⅓ tsp fresh grated nutmeg or nutmeg powder
- 2 seasonal apples of choice (I used Fuji but wish for McIntosh), peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
- 2 Tbsp or so olive oil
- Sea salt & black pepper
- 4 + ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth
- 2 Tbsp fresh thyme
- Preheat oven to 450 F
- Place cauliflower florets in a mixing bowl and add: 2 Tbsp of olive oil and a generous pinch of sea salt and coarse black pepper. Using your hands or other implement, toss to combine making sure the florets are well saturated.
- Invert greased and seasoned florets onto a parchment lined baking sheet, making sure to spread them out so that they are not touching (this ensures proper roasting).
- Place the tray in the oven and roast the florets for approximately 35-40 minutes until they begin to take on some nice coloration and gentle searing, shaking the pan once or twice as they cook. Remove tray from oven and allow the florets to cool.
- Meanwhile, in a pan large enough to accommodate soup, sauté onion, fennel and garlic with some olive oil over low-medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften (about 8 minutes). Sprinkle the vegetables with nutmeg as they cook.
- To the same pan, add vegetable (or chicken) stock and apples. Bring the mixture just to the boiling point then reduce heat immediately to lowest setting and simmer until the apple is just beginning to soften (about 10 minutes).
- Remove from heat, add roasted cauliflower florets to the pan and allow the mixture to cool slightly.
- Working in batches, carefully transfer contents (including liquid) to blender (or food processor) and blend until desired consistency is achieved (there may still be some texture/bulk to the soup but it should be mostly smooth). Transfer each puréed batch back to the original pan as you go along.
- Allow flavors to gather for 10 minutes or so, taste the soup and make any seasoning adjustments desired. If you feel the soup isn't quite as sweet as you would like (depending on the variety of apple and its ripeness) you can add a scoop of apple sauce to the mixture. Apple sauce has the perfect consistency for this kind of soup.
- If you wish, you can add some chopped herbs directly into the soup or simply garnish with them. I used thyme here - it complements the soup beautifully and I also happen to have a jungle of it growing outside. Tarragon and sage would also be delicious here.
- When ready to serve, reheat the soup and enjoy.
- You can store the fully cooled soup in a covered container in the fridge for up to 5 days ~ it also freezes well.
Use a Baking Sheet not a Dish: Vegetables contain a significant amount of water - a flat cooking surface allows that water to evaporate more effectively than higher/curved sides which may have the unintended result of steaming your vegetables = mush = yuck.
Developing Flavors: like many sauces, soups and stews, the flavors in this soup just get better with time. I found it ideal and most flavored the day after making it.
Nutmeg: The amount of nutmeg in this recipe is modest but its flavor is unmistakable. It strikes a lovely note in tandem with the apple and roasted cauliflower but with certain high potency spices, it's best not to kill with kindness. A little permeates a long way with this gem so go easy and see what your personal response is.
Substitute for Fennel: if you know that fennel is not your thing, leek would make an excellent substitute here.
Substitute for Thyme: You can play with different fresh herbs of choice but sage and tarragon might work especially well here in place of thyme.