Yield: 8 large servings
2 quarts (8 cups) rough-cut cauliflower florets (see notes)
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup finely diced onion
1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
2 cups shredded white American cheese
2 cups shredded fontina cheese
1 tablespoon cornstarch
4 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
4 tablespoons chopped chives
Notes: For the test, we purchased two 2-pound untrimmed heads of cauliflower. To get 8 cups florets roughly cut we used about 1 ½ heads. For this soup, use the florets only and reserve the stems for another use.
• Buy white American cheese in blocks from the deli counter. To get 2 cups shredded for both the American and the fontina cheeses, you will need approximately ½ pound of each.
• To avoid making a stringy cheese soup, don’t bring the milk and cream to a full boil; rather, heat to a slow boil where a bubble breaks the surface every so often, not constantly. Heating the milk mix too high can cause the protein bonds in cheeses to break, release moisture and create a stringy soup.
• Add the cheeses to the milk mix gradually, in 4 or 5 additions, stirring slowly, to prevent stringiness and clumping.
1. If using a standard oven, preheat 400 degrees. For convection ovens, preheat to 300 degrees and use low fan to roast the cauliflower.
2. Trim the outer green leaves of the cauliflower, and then slice the stem end even with the head. Place florets facing up on a cutting board and cut it in half, then into quarters. Trim the woody core from each quarter and then trim the florets. Cut large florets in halves or quarters so all florets will roast evenly. Reserve the woody core and trims from florets for another use. Place florets in a large colander and rinse them under cold running water.
3. Roast the cauliflower.
4. For standard ovens: Place trimmed florets in a single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, and then toss to coat evenly. Roast for 10 minutes, then turn the florets and rotate the baking sheet and return to oven for another 10 minutes. The florets should be lightly caramelized.
5. For convection ovens: Place florets on a large, rimless baking sheet. You want the air to circulate freely. Drizzle with olive oil, and then toss to coat evenly. Roast on low fan for 20 minutes or until the florets are light brown.
6. Remove from oven and place florets in a food processor, in batches, with a bit of the vegetable stock. Don’t puree to smoothness. Leave some chunkiness.
7. Melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat in a 3- or 4-quart heavy bottomed pan. Add finely diced onion and cook until translucent, stirring as needed.
8. Add milk and heavy cream to the onions and cook over medium-low heat until the mixture comes to a soft, low boil. Add the American cheese first, in 4 or 5 handfuls. Gently stir or whisk each addition in before adding the next.
9. Repeat step with the fontina cheese.
10. Stir in the reserved cauliflower and heat through.
11. If the soup is too thin, make a slurry by whisking the cornstarch increments into the cold water. Slowly stir it in, in increments, until desired consistency is reached.
12. Add the smoked paprika. If needed, add salt to taste.
13. Ladle into bowls and top with Parmigiano-Reggiano and chopped chives.
Per serving: 525 calories; 44g fat; 25g saturated fat; 127mg cholesterol; 20g protein; 17g carbohydrate; 8g sugar; 3g fiber; 845mg sodium; 412mg calcium