After a long and very hot summer, soup season is finally here! It’s the time of year when something delicious is seemingly always bubbling away merrily on the stove or in the oven. One of my favorite soups to make is this rustic Italian cauliflower soup. It is simple, versatile and absolutely delicious. It’s a recipe I came across years ago on a long defunct Mario Batali cooking app. Over the years, I have made this a million times and in a bunch of different ways. The one consistent thing about the soup is how it warms the soul on a cold day, and how much my girls love it. When I made it for dinner earlier in the week, I actually got “yay, cauliflower soup!” from my six year old.
Growing up, my father’s side of the family was Italian, and my mother’s Jewish. Food was important on both sides of the family, and holidays were really just an excuse for a really good meal. I remember visiting my Italian grandmother in New Jersey around holidays, almost always for thanksgiving. Of course the thanksgiving meal was a highlight, but I also remember the whole week being an amazing parade of dishes, one after another. I remember incredible pizza rustica, steak a la pizzaiola, and all sorts of other staples of the Italian grandmother repertoire. I don’t recall her ever making an Italian cauliflower soup, but if she did, it would have been like this.
This Italian cauliflower soup is 100% Italian grandmother food. It will fill your whole house with savory smells for days. You’ll be slurping up every drop of soup and looking for excuses to make it again. It is also extremely versatile. To make it heartier, I usually add some pasta to the soup. But, you can keep it light if you wish and add nothing, or add farro or barley if you want a whole grain instead of pasta. If you add no grain or pasta, reduce the volume of water by two cups. Pro tip: if you use wagon wheel pasta, your kids will eat this no questions asked.
Most importantly of all, you must add the secret ingredient that takes this soup from a simple cauliflower soup recipe into the sublime; a Parmesan rind. If you’ve been throwing out the end of your Parmesan cheese blocks when you are done with them, stop immediately! Tossing a Parmesan rind into soup results in zillions of little tiny ribbons of Parmesan melted throughout the soup and gives the dish a really earthy, rustic flavor. You can do this with all sorts of stuff, which is why I always have a little Ziploc bag full of the rind from old Parmesan cheese wedges, and you should too.
You can round this out with a simple kale salad, but the soup is filling enough to make a meal on its own.
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 red onion, diced
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large cauliflower
- 4 bay leaves
- 14 oz can of whole tomatoes with juice, crushed between your fingers in a bowl
- 8 cups vegetable broth
- Salt to taste, usually about 1.5 teaspoons depending on how salty your broth is
- Fresh ground black pepper to taste, usually about a teaspoon
- 1 3" to 4" Parmesan rind
- 8 ounces short pasta
- Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Cook the onion, celery, and carrot for 4-6 minutes, until the onion is translucent. While the savory vegetables are cooking, separate the cauliflower into florets, and chop the softer part of the stem.
- Add the garlic to the pot and stir. Cook for one minute more. After a minute or so, add the cauliflower and stir and cook for another minute.
- Add the tomatoes, broth, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and Parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, stir once, reduce heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. You should have enough broth to cover the cauliflower. If you don't add more.
- After 15 minutes, check that the vegetables are done. Add the pasta and cook for what the package says to cook the pasta for. Don't let it simmer away, it will get mushy.
- Taste for salt and pepper one last time, and serve.