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It's been very rainy and gray in Umbria these past few weeks, and once I feel the need to curl up in front of a roaring fire or layer up to keep warm, I begin craving a warm bowl of soup. Properly executed, it's enough to make you feel good on even the nastiest of days. You can use just about any combination of ingredients to make a comforting pot of soup, but I tend to focus on seasonal local vegetables, along with some hearty regional grains.
On a recent trip to the outdoor market in Deruta, I came across some gorgeous heads of cauliflower and ended up buying two. I used just one of the heads in combination with roasted red peppers to make this creamy soup, and it made enough for several lunches. It's flavored with little more than sautéed onion and garlic, fresh thyme, salt, pepper, and a pinch of hot chili flakes. The roasted peppers add a nice smoky depth to the soup; if you feel so inclined, you can even step it up with a pinch of smoked paprika.
When it comes to puréed or creamy-textured soups, I avoid using dairy products or starchy thickeners and opt for an ordinary boiled potato, instead. The starch in the potato adds the thickness I like, without heavy cream's calories or the grainy texture you can often get with starch-based thickeners like flour. I also find that when I thicken my soups with potato, they freeze better and retain that smooth texture once thawed and reheated.
When serving a creamy soup, it can look flat or boring without some type of garnish. You can garnish your soup with a drizzle of sour cream and some chopped fresh chives or thyme, or sauté up a crouton, apple, and pancetta mixture, as I do here. The croutons add a crunchy texture, the pancetta a salty bite, and the apples a little sweetness that works beautifully with this type of soup.