A few months ago, my oldest son got his driver’s license. It was a milestone to ponder as we stood in line together at the DMV. While he texted triumphant selfies to all his friends, I ran through a slideshow of dreads in my mind: son attempts parallel parking á la Fred Flinstone…son gets lost on his way to school…son drag races down Sunset Blvd.
The moment reminded me of my own mother’s reaction when I left home to work as an apprentice in France. I was heading halfway across the world, the lone girl cooking in a hot kitchen full of arrogant males, with no knowledge of French and no idea what lay ahead. Though my mother might have been terrified for me, she sent me off with a strong, confident hug. “Remember,” she said. “Just cook.”
Somehow, the road seem less scary then. And somehow I got through the long year, returning home with freshly sharpened knives, a fluency in foulmouthed kitchen French, and an appetite for more adventure.
My last class, An American Farmgirl in Paris, was a tribute to my year cooking in France. We made my favorite salad from the local bistro around the corner from where I worked, and the cheese soufflé I learned to make in Burgundy. And we prepared this soup, which reminded me of a memorable staff meal during the frigid French winter. A bowl of warm reassurance, a hug of optimism.
Some of my students cringed at the word velouté, a weighty soup traditionally enriched with butter and cream. But I demonstrated how easy it is to make a puréed soup (no fancy chopping!), and how just a short spell of simmering could transform a few simple ingredients into a hearty meal. For a modern, lighter finish, I added a touch of cashew cream in place of heavy cream, and a lovely garnish of almonds and capers (which we all snacked on after class).
As I said goodbye to our eldest on his first solo journey to school, I said a silent prayer and gave him a tight hug. “Don’t worry,” I said. “Just drive.” And I went straight to my kitchen to get cooking.
Serves 6 – 8
4 cups (1 quart) light vegetable broth (preferably homemade)
1 medium-sized cauliflower head (about 16 ounces), coarsely chopped with stems
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and sliced
2 whole sprigs of fresh tarragon, plus additional chopped leaves for garnish
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup Cashew Cream (see recipe below), or more to taste
2 tablespoons organic unsalted butter (optional)
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) sliced raw almonds
2 tablespoons capers, drained
A dash of smoked paprika, for garnish
1. In a medium soup pot, bring the broth to a boil and add the cauliflower, potato, tarragon sprigs, and nutmeg. Season generously with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.
2. Remove the tarragon sprigs. Transfer the soup to a blender and purée until very smooth, adding more vegetable broth as needed (the soup should be thick). Return the purée to the pot, stir in the cashew cream and simmer for a few minutes on very low heat. Adjust seasoning if necessary and stir in the butter if desired.
3. Warm the olive oil in a small pan over low heat. Add the almonds and capers and cook, stirring often so they do not burn, until the almonds turn golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Serve the soup in individual bowls, garnished with the sautéed almonds and capers along with a sprinkle of smoked paprika and fresh tarragon. The soup will keep covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Tal Ronnen’s Thick Cashew Cream*
Slightly simplified from the original recipe, which you can find here
Makes about 2 1/4 cups
2 cups (8 ounces) whole raw cashews (not pieces, which are often dry), rinsed under cold water
1. Put the cashews in a bowl and add cold water to cover them. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Drain the cashews and rinse under cold water. Place them in a Vitamix or other high-power blender with enough fresh cold water to barely cover them. Blend on high speed for several minutes until very smooth.
In the mood for a hearty soup? Here are some Farmgirl favorites:
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