The house feels bare this week. Freshly cleared of Christmas decorations, the rooms seem more spacious, cavernous even, as the furniture and ordinary décor settle back into their normal positions and I adjust to the amount of physical space that the Christmas tree and festive ornaments had swelled to fill.
January has always seemed to me a month of quiet, pale in contrast to the luster of the holidays. I am trying to learn how to recast it as something different, a month in which I celebrate the space while creatively considering ways to preserve the warmth and the feeling of hygge or koselig that December so naturally fosters. That might mean soft blankets draped on seating areas throughout the house, ready for impromptu snuggles, or perhaps remembering to light the candles I’ve purposefully left scattered on shelves and windowsills. And of course there should be soup.
Having been out of town for half of the month of November and sick for much of the month of December, I’m still trying to get back into routines, especially in the kitchen. Breakfast and lunch are always easy; these early meals almost always seem to take care of themselves with items that are regularly on hand—milk, eggs, bread, peanut butter, jam, cheese, fruit, and the like. But dinner is another story. As much of the recipe testing and development that I’m doing doesn’t translate to a well-balanced dinner (we need much more than cardamom boller and various Scandinavian sweets in our diet), dinnertime rolls around and even though I may have spent plenty of time in the kitchen that day, I don’t exactly have much of nutritional value to show for it.
That is perhaps reason enough to embrace soup. Scandinavian cooking is full of them, from creamy yet light Bergen fish soup to hearty yellow pea soup that clings to the spoon, meaning I can call it “work” and still feed my family something nutritious. This week’s choice was blomkålsuppe, a classic throughout the Scandinavian countries.
With an almost-embarrassing level of access to a wealth of produce at local grocery stores year-round, I have to admit that I’ve long thought of cauliflower as an ordinary, everyday vegetable. It turns out I was wrong.
“Cauliflower has always been considered a fine thing, even by the rich,” writes Danish cook Camilla Plum in her book The Scandinavian Kitchen.
With its pale color and plentiful florets, cauliflower was a vegetable to be praised and celebrated. Its origins go back to the Middle Ages when, according to Plum, it was a cabbage chosen for its enlarged flowers. It had spread to Northern Europe by the 17th century.
Just the thought of cauliflower brings sweet memories to the minds of Scandinavians. Norwegian cookbook author Astrid Karlsen Scott writes with nostalgia in Authentic Norwegian Cooking about how she remembers the feeling of summer breezes rustling the kitchen curtains while her mother simmered cauliflower soup. Magnus Nilsson, chef of the celebrated Fäviken in Sweden writes in The Nordic Cookbook about the pleasures of steaming a head of cauliflower straight from the garden, perhaps served with salted butter and lemon for dipping. Reading his words I can’t help but picture that garden and taste the sun and the Nordic air absorbed into the cauliflower’s very cells.
At its simplest, cauliflower soup might look like steamed cauliflower pureed with broth and swirled with cream, but it invites so much more. Some recipes call for steaming the cauliflower first, while others panfry or roast it. As for flavorings, one recipe includes Danish blue cheese, while another source says that in Denmark people sometimes add a shot of sherry. Andreas Viestad, host of New Scandinavian Cooking, adds dry white wine and a generous splash of aquavit in his recipe in Kitchen of Light, saying the traditional Scandinavian spirit adds a nice spiciness. He garnishes the soup with fresh chervil, a lovely, delicate, and feathery herb that’s as useful for its beauty as well as flavor. Nilsson writes that he likes to garnish his with bacon, chives, and a halved hard-boiled egg. While some recipes call for garnishing the soup with small prawns or shrimp, Danish chef Trine Hahnemann tops hers with grilled scallops in The Scandinavian Cookbook. Sunny at the blog Arctic Grub features a dairy-free version, optionally spiked with curry powder.
The version I’m featuring today gets its start with the cauliflower and juniper soup in The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen, a beautiful new book by Simon Bajada. I’ve added cardamom, which I find gives a subtle warmth to cauliflower. Flecks of spice dot the soup, a whisper of the flavor infused in each bite. But rather than dominating the soup, the spices, you’ll find, are subtle and nuanced, lending a gentle warmth to a classic, comforting dish.
Soup is always cozy, warming the body while going down. Even when it’s too hot to eat immediately, the pleasure of holding a spoon to the lips and blowing off the soft rising swirls of steam hints at a slower pace, of savoring the moment. It’s a step, I think, toward preserving the warmth of the holidays even in the sparseness of the new season.
Nordic Roasted Cauliflower Soup (Blomkålsuppe) with Brown Butter and Cardamom
Adapted from the cauliflower and juniper soup in The New Nordic: Recipes from a Scandinavian Kitchen by Simon Bajada (Hardie Grant Books, 2015)
1 head cauliflower, leaves attached
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon dried juniper berries
½ teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 tablespoon canola or rapeseed oil
20 ounces chicken broth or stock
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup sour cream
Ground white pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Rinse the cauliflower thoroughly, then snap off the thick outer leaves, leaving the small, tender ones attached. Using a sharp knife, cut off the stem, leaving a flat base on which the cauliflower can rest. Place the cauliflower on a baking sheet. Pour the oil over the cauliflower, using your hand to rub it in.
Using a mortar and pestle, smash together the salt, juniper, and cardamom, thoroughly crushing the herbs. Sprinkle it over the cauliflower in a generous, even layer (you may not need it all).
Slide the tray into the oven and roast for about 40 minutes, until a knife easily pierces the stem. (After 40 minutes, if the cauliflower is not tender yet, the original recipe suggests turning down the heat to 340 degrees to finish roasting—this took me an additional 15 minutes.) At this point, the cauliflower will be deep golden and richly fragrant, almost nutty.
When the cauliflower is still warm but cool enough to handle, cut it into rough florets, reserving the leaves, and place in a blender. Blend, gradually adding chicken broth, until as smooth as can be. You only want to add as much broth as necessary to make it a luscious, spoonable soup—it took me 15 ounces.
In a medium pot, melt butter over medium heat. Continue heating until the butter starts to brown. It will crackle and release an intoxicating aroma into the air. Carefully swirl the pan until the milk solids separate and the butter is golden brown. Promptly remove the pot to a cool burner to stop cooking, then pour the pureed cauliflower in, taking care as it will sputter dramatically when the cauliflower hits the hot butter. Stir in the sour cream. Taste and season with additional salt and white pepper if necessary.
Return the pot to medium heat and cook, continuing to stir occasionally, until the soup is heated through. Serve, garnishing with the leaves, which are now curled, warmly colored, and almost translucent.