Why It Works
- Lightly browning the onion and garlic in butter enhances their sweetness and complexity.
- Your choice of liquid means you can go sweet and full-bodied with heavy cream, or more savory and rich with chicken stock (or use a combination of the two).
This article is about how to make the most flavorful, smooth, and creamy cauliflower purée, with a flavorful twist. This technique could also lead you to a delicious puréed vegetable soup, but we’re going to keep it a little thicker so it can be a standout side dish.
The short version: Prepare your main ingredients (roasted cauliflower, in this case); choose your aromatics; brown the aromatics; add any secondary aromatics, like spices and pastes; simmer in a liquid; and purée.
I roasted the cauliflower first, bringing out deep, nutty flavors, then simmered it in liquid with aromatics before puréeing it all together. It has a much more complex flavor that I'd be inclined to give more of a starring role in a meal—say, as a bold accompaniment to a simple piece of protein, like steamed or poached fish or chicken. Alternatively, you could go all in on its more robust flavor, serving it with something that can stand up to it, like a thick, juicy steak with a deeply seared crust.
Whether you're making a puréed vegetable soup or a vegetable purée, here are the steps you'll need to take.
Step 1: Prepare Your Main Ingredient
I tossed the florets in olive oil and roasted them in a hot, 500°F (260°C) oven, turning once, until well browned. This partially dehydrates the cauliflower, shrinking it down (which means that the purée will need less liquid later and the yield will be lower) and turning it rich and nutty.
Step 2: Choose and Prepare Your Aromatics
Similar to my recipe for the clean and simple version, I used just yellow onion and garlic, which both help create a depth of flavor without adding any very obvious flavors of their own. I left carrots out, since I didn't want their color and sweetness, and I also refrained from adding celery, which has a very particular flavor that can cut through in simple preparations like this.
I let the onions and garlic turn lightly golden, bringing out more of their sweetness, richness, and complexity; still, I didn't want to brown them too deeply, since I wasn't looking for too intense of a sweetness.
I kept things simple here, adding one sprig of thyme to the pot, just for some herbal notes, and a pinch of cayenne pepper for a subtle heat—just enough to come across as a kind of warmth in your mouth, not as overt spiciness.
Step 3: Add Your Liquid
You can really go any of a number of ways here. I tried the dish with cream and chicken stock, and all versions work. My own personal preference was for using both cream and stock; the savory meatiness of chicken stock is such a welcome component with the roasted cauliflower, while the creamy dairy adds a richness that just can't be beat.
Still, in a pinch (or to make either of these vegan, in which case you'd need to also ditch the butter and use oil in its place), you could use vegetable stock or even water. You'll still get great results; maybe slightly less rich and complex, but not worse by any measure.
Step 4: Cook and Purée
To make puréeing easy, the cauliflower has to be simmered in the liquid long enough to be extremely tender, which doesn’t take too long since the cauliflower was previously roasted.
You also need to pay attention to the liquid level: Since you're making a purée and not soup, you don't want it to be as wet. The roasted cauliflower has already lost moisture and shrunk during roasting, so less liquid is needed to cover it in the saucepan.
As for puréeing it, you can either use a traditional blender or use an immersion blender right in the pot. As long as the cauliflower is cooked to the point of being extremely soft, you'll get an incredibly smooth, silky purée.
1 (2-pound; 925g) head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter
1 large (8 ounces; 225g) yellow onion, thinly sliced
4 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup (235ml) heavy cream or homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock (or a combination of the two; see notes)
1 sprig thyme
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Place cauliflower on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet, toss with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast, flipping cauliflower with a thin metal spatula halfway through roasting, until cauliflower is tender and deeply browned on both sides, about 20 minutes total.
In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic, and cayenne and cook, stirring often, until softened and just starting to turn golden, about 4 minutes.
Add cauliflower, cream and/or stock, and thyme. Bring to a simmer, then cook, adjusting heat to maintain simmer, until cauliflower has softened in the liquid, about 5 minutes. Discard thyme sprig.
Using a blender or immersion blender, blend cauliflower and liquid to form a very smooth purée. Season with salt and pepper. (You can adjust purée consistency as needed: Thicken by cooking down further while stirring often over low heat in a wide nonstick skillet, or thin by adding liquid, such as stock, cream, or water.) Serve warm.
Cream makes the most luxurious purée, while chicken stock adds a rich depth of flavor. You can use either or combine the two to get the best of both worlds. In a pinch, you can also use water.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 11g||15%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||17%|
|Total Carbohydrate 11g||4%|
|Dietary Fiber 4g||15%|
|Total Sugars 5g|
|Vitamin C 71mg||356%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|