Batter Licker

January 27, 2011

roasted cauliflower and sunchoke soup

You wouldn’t know it when tasting it – or when looking at it, for that matter – but there’s no cream in this soup … and no cheese. Give your accolades to roasted, pureed cauliflower for the creamily rich texture and to sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes) for the wonderfully nutty flavor they contribute to this soup. And to Chef Frank McClelland.

And by way of thanking Chef McClelland for inspiring me to recreate his gastronomic invention at home, stop into L’Espalier next time you’re in Boston for a culinarily magical meal. In my three visits, I have never left his restaurant feeling any less than entirely exhilarated about his creations – and entirely full.

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During my second visit to that lovely restaurant, I ordered the cauliflower and sunchoke soup as an appetizer. There is nothing I love more than ordering soup at a fancy restaurant. On this occasion, the bowl came with two (or three?) large scallops sitting center stage, decorated with a sprinkling of crispy pancetta and some watercress. Moments after the bowl’s appearance, I watched as the waiter ladled spoonful after spoonful of thick, creamy soup into the bowl and consciously refrained from drooling as the milky substance slowly shifted to encircle the plump seared scallops.

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Although I adored the scallops then and still recommend them when you have company and want to serve something simple and healthy but decadent, I skipped them this time around for no better reasons than that I was making this soup at home for the umpteenth time after a full day of work on a mid-week night when no guests would be attending. Fresh scallops didn’t make it into the basket when I did my weekly grocery shopping last Saturday, and if they had, they certainly wouldn’t be fresh any more.

Instead, I did a for-me vegan version and a for-Jay pancetta’ed version that are both easy to throw together on a Wednesday evening. If you want to make this truly weekday friendly, you can even roast the cauliflower and sunchokes a few days in advance – or make the entire soup ahead of time if you want! It warms up easily from the refrigerator and defrosts nicely from the freezer, so this is a perfect do-ahead dish for lunches or dinners.

Just toss some sprouts, watercress or other fresh, crunchy green things on top, add some crispy pancetta if you so desire, and you’ll have a warm, satisfying, soupy meal that’s comfortingly creamy and nutty but doesn’t leave you entirely regretful about your decision to skip the gym. It is Thursday, after all.

Roasted Cauliflower and Sunchoke Soup
Makes 4 servings

1 head cauliflower, cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 2 1/2 c.)
3 large sunchokes, cut into 1/2-inch slices (about 1 1/2 c.)
3 cloves garlic, whole
1 c. water, divided (or 3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided)
juice from one lemon (I used Meyer lemon)
1 yellow onion, chopped (about 1 c.)
3 to 4 c. low-sodium vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
1 c. unsweetened soy or almond milk (or regular milk)
1 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. cayenne
1 c. radish sprouts (or other favorite sprouts; or 1/2 c. chopped and browned pancetta for meat eaters)
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 400F.

Mix 1/2 c. water (or 2 Tbsp. olive oil) with lemon juice. Gently toss cauliflower slices, sunchoke slices, and garlic cloves in this mixture to coat (it’s okay if some of the cauliflower falls apart – it can go in the oven just the same). Spread vegetables in one layer on a baking sheet, pouring extra liquid over the top. Bake until cauliflower and sunchokes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven, chop into 1-inch pieces, and set aside.

In a pot over medium-high, heat the remaining 1/2 c. water (or 1 Tbsp. oil). Add onions, and saute until tender, about 6 minutes. Add 3 c. stock, almond milk, thyme, cayenne, and roasted garlic cloves, and bring to boil. Add roasted cauliflower and sunchokes and return to a boil. Lower heat, and simmer until vegetables are quite soft, about 5 minutes.

Blend until completely smooth using immersion blender directly in pot, or pour into food processor or regular blender (allow to cool 10-15 minutes if pouring into regular blender to avoid explosions!). Season to taste with salt and pepper. If desired, gradually stir in 1 c. remaining broth to thin out soup a bit. Reheat if necessary, and garnish with a little pile of sprouts (or pancetta, which you should dice, throw in a pan over medium heat, and cook, stirring periodically, until browned and crispy).


  1. This sounds delicious. I love how creamy cauliflower makes things, but is actually good for you! I have never seen the sunchokes before. Can you buy them at most grocery stores? Are they seasonal? I will have to check it out the next time I’m at the store. My husband will love the crispy pancetta!

    Comment by Plastic Surgeon — January 28, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

  2. I have been able to find sunchokes (also under the name “Jerusalem artichokes”) at my Safeway, Whole Foods, and farmers market, but I am fortunate to live in San Francisco where different kinds of produce is more widely available. A friend said she has luck finding them at her local Korean market. They are in season autumn through spring. While I do think they are, more or less, the “secret” ingredient for the flavor in this soup, some say that jicama or chestnuts can be good substitutes. Others have said potatoes are a good substitute, but I think you really lose the nutty flavor if you use potatoes. However, it might be okay to use half chestnuts/jicama and half potatoes – then you get the starchiness but also the nutty flavor.

    Comment by Kristen — January 29, 2011 @ 7:57 am

  3. That sounds fantastic! I’ve always loved cauliflower soup and have passed by many a sunchoke at the farmer’s market thinking, “Hmmm, what exactly does one do with that funky looking thing?” Now I know!

    Comment by Jenn from Much to My Delight — January 31, 2011 @ 11:32 am

  4. I was glad to find out what to do with them too when I enjoyed the soup at L’Espalier! And now that I’ve been exposed to them, I can’t believe I had never picked them up before. They’re also delicious just roasted in the oven and seasoned with a bit of salt.

    Comment by Kristen — February 2, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

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