The Hungry Engineer

Todd and His Cauliflower

05 Nov 2008

I really don’t much care to write negative reviews. Generally speaking, if I like something, I write about it, and if I don’t, I won’t bother. But in the interest of honesty and fairness with my cookbook trials, I have to report on the recipes I try, even if they didn’t turn out so well. With that glowing introduction, I bring you Fall Potato Soup with Cauliflower, the most recent recipe test from The Figs Table, by Todd English.

The full title of the recipe is actually Fall Potato Soup with Cauliflower and Duck, but Todd explained to me that the duck was optional – that the soup would be just a good without it. In the interest of saving cash and serving the soup as a side to a meaty main course, I chose to prepare it sans poultry. Perhaps that was my fatal flaw. Essentially, you sweat a bunch of aromatics, then add your cauliflower and potato and seasonings and broth, and cook till the whole works is nice and tender. The soup is served pureed, and to be fair, the texture was beautifully creamy. Had I not prepared it myself, I’d have sworn it had cream in it. And the flavor that was there was nice, it was just … subtle.

Cauliflower soup and roast beef tri-tip

Some of you are looking at that list of ingredients and thinking, “well no kidding, it’s subtle.” But, I tell you, I got tricked. Mr. English gushes about this soup, explaining that it undoes the damage some of our mothers did to cauliflower when we were younger. He talks about how he just loves to have a big bowl for himself if there’s any left at the end of the night. By the time I had read all that, it was all I could do not to make the soup.

While I’m being critical, this may also be a good time to point out that these recipes are written in sort of a spare style. The instructions are generally all there, but they’re not tremendously detailed. “Add the cauliflower, potatoes, and rosemary and cook 3 to 4 minutes.” That is the first and last mention of those ingredients in the recipe’s method (and the potato and cauliflower are main components of the dish). To what degree should we cook them? Should they be browned? Soft? It would be nice to know. I’m sure I shouldn’t be so picky, but if cooking is really and truly more about technique than recipe, it would be good to understand the intent as well as the anticipated cooking time. Maybe some clarity in those areas would have taken my soup from “acceptable” to “great”.

I served the Fall Potato Soup with Cauliflower alongside a lovely beef tri-tip roast with sun-dried tomato and roasted-pepper relish, courtesy of Gourmet. The roast was boisterously flavored, and the smooth and gentle soup actually worked reasonably well as an unobtrusive accompaniment. It made for a decent dinner and I’ve been working the leftover soup in as a side to our lunches.

All in all, the soup wasn’t bad, it was just nothing to get teary-eyed over (unlike the other two dishes I’ve prepared from this book, which were heaven-sent). Were I to try this one again (and I’m not sure that I will), I’d give it a shot with the duck leg to see if it didn’t turn out better.

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