Cool as a cauliflower

Entertaining: A chilled soup generates light, not heat.

August 22, 1999|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Light and simple. Those are the words I'd use to describe the menus I plan when entertaining in the summer.

Where I live in New England, we have frequent periods of sweltering heat and high humidity during this season so I make a point of preparing cool, refreshing dishes to counter the soaring temperatures. I also look for recipes that take a minimum of time to assemble so I'm not obliged to spend hours toiling in the kitchen before a hot stove or oven.

This past weekend, I served one of my typical warm-weather meals to friends who came for a Sunday night supper. For the main course, I made a chilled cauliflower soup garnished with fresh, snipped dill and crumbled bacon. Next, we had a spinach salad with julienne red peppers in a Sherry wine vinaigrette. And for dessert, there were fresh raspberries and blackberries topped with rum-scented whipped cream.

This menu, which seemed almost effortless, was easy to prepare ahead of time. Early in the day, I cooked the soup, which was the piece de resistance of the evening. I sauteed onions and pieces of cauliflower in some bacon drippings, then simmered the vegetables in chicken stock along with seasonings of fresh dill and cayenne pepper. This mixture was pureed, and milk and cream stirred in. Then the soup was left to chill in the refrigerator until serving time, when crumbled bacon and fresh dill were added as adornments.

The salad greens, which took little time to clean, and the dressing, which I whisked together in a few minutes, also were made in advance. For the dessert, I cleaned the berries and whipped the cream several hours before dinner as well.

This soup, light yet satisfying enough to offer as an entree, is delicious served with the bacon and dill garnish, but if you want to embellish it further, you could arrange two or three large cooked shrimp or a small mound of cooked lobster meat in the center of each portion.

Chilled Cauliflower Soup With Bacon and Dill

Serves 4

4 strips lean bacon

1 1/2 cups chopped onions

6 1/2 to 7 cups cauliflower florets (about 1 1/2 pounds cauliflower)

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed

scant 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

5 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup milk

Fry bacon in large, heavy, deep-sided pot or saucepan over medium heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then cover and reserve for garnish.

Pour off and discard all but 1 tablespoon drippings in pan and return pan to medium heat. Add onions and stir and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add cauliflower florets, 1/2 teaspoon salt, cayenne pepper, 2 tablespoons dill and stock. Bring mixture to simmer, then lower heat.

Cover and cook until cauliflower is tender when pierced with a knife, 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove from heat. Puree soup in small batches in food processor, blender or food mill. Return soup to pan in which it was cooked and stir in cream and milk. Cover and refrigerate soup until thoroughly chilled, 4 to 6 hours or longer.

When ready to serve, taste soup and season with more salt if necessary. (Cold foods almost always need extra salt to intensify their flavor.) Crumble or coarsely chop reserved bacon. Ladle soup into 4 shallow soup bowls. Sprinkle each with some bacon and some of remaining 1 tablespoon chopped dill.

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