A pipe burst at my neighbor's house. A friend is coming to town at the last minute. A colleague has arrived home after a week on the road. There are dozens of reasons to make a big pot of soup to share, especially when it's quick to the table and satisfying to boot.
This cauliflower soup takes inspiration from Welsh rarebit, a classic pub dish of piping hot cheese sauce spiked with beer spooned over thick toast. In this iteration, it's the cauliflower that gets the rarebit treatment, resulting in a soup that is cheesy and slightly bitter from the beer. Mustard and Worcestershire sauce add depth, and sharp Cheddar cheese delivers a tangy zing.
I'm always suspicious when a recipe writer claims that you'll have everything in the pantry to make something. My pantry might be different from yours, so instead I'll say that a head of cauliflower, a hunk of cheese and a bottle of beer may be the outliers. If, like me, you buy a head of cauliflower every week while dreaming of peas and asparagus and tender lettuce, you may be set.
I used a dark stout (similar to Guinness) for the soup but made it another time with a light lager because that was all I had. I preferred the raspy bitterness of the stout, but the beer flavor came through even with the lager. "Use what you have" has to be one of the three pillars of soupmaking (joining "cover the pot while cooking" and "serve it hot" for the triumvirate of soupy success).
Chop the cauliflower into spoon- or bite-size pieces. Not too small or it will cook too quickly and turn mushy. Work to make most of the pieces equal in size so that they cook through at the same time. The onion and cauliflower cook in the chicken (or vegetable) stock to boost all the flavors.
While the cauliflower is cooking, make a quick white sauce. Whisk the foaming butter and flour together until smooth and then cook until the flour smell is gone and it's a toasty golden brown. Pour in the warmed milk and continue to whisk until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Once the beer is added to this sauce, it's ready to be incorporated into the soup. At this point, it's very easy to break the sauce — separating the fats so that it curdles — so keep the heat low and slow.
Finally, stirring in the grated cheese at the end protects the soup from breaking, too. This soup is best when made at the last minute (it only takes about 25 minutes). If reheating, do so slowly and gently, and never in the microwave.
I've served this soup with pretty pieces of cauliflower floating in the creamy base. I've also whirred the vegetable in my blender for a smooth soup served in small sipping cups, as prelude to dinner.
It looks pretty with a shower of chives on the top or a floating crouton. But we served it to our friend, road-weary and slightly shattered from too many hours on airplanes, with no garnish, ladled straight from the pot. She had three bowls. There's something wonderful about devouring warm soup with friends. I hope you'll share some this week.