We have a family tradition of having soup on Christmas-Eve-Eve – every 23rd of December. This has apparently evolved into a pre-Thanksgiving tradition since I stopped spending Thanksgiving at home, but as I remember it, the four bubbling cauldrons of soup – tomato, cream of mushroom, squash, and potato leek – were always made in the days leading up to Christmas.
Christmas is far less of an event, here in France. You don’t hear Christmas music booming in every shop; Christmas ads on television are minimal and mostly limited to foie gras and caviar. I don’t have kids, so I don’t know what it feels like to stop everything for two weeks in the days leading up to and following Christmas, but as far as we were concerned, at least this year, we worked through Friday and got back to work on Tuesday.
We had a Christmas meal, of course: a Christmas celebration with the Country Boy’s parents that began on the 24th and continued after we had to catch our train back to Paris, but Christmas doesn’t explode here; it just kind of exists, and then it fades away.
I’m not sure, however, how much of this sentiment of Christmas feeling anticlimactic has to do with being in France, and how much has to do with me being an adult – one of those characters in countless Christmas movies who allows the Christmas spirit, the Christmas holiday, to become barely a blip on my radar. Maybe it’s a little bit of both; who can say?
Here’s what I do know, though – when I embrace the Christmas traditions that I have now: Christmas dinner at TCB’s parents’, our little tree that I always demand be “real” even though TCB would prefer the ease of synthetic, exchanging gifts, not on the 25th, but on whatever day makes sense for our schedules – I can still find a bit of magic in this holiday, and I think that’s what really matters.
On Christmas Eve – and Christmas Day – we had a feast, a true French Christmas meal, with one rich dish after another: foie gras, cheese, capon, bûche. Now, I think both TCB and I are in want of something a bit lighter, like this cauliflower soup.
It took me a while to understand that in France, all soups are smooth; I make both, these days, but I always top even the smooth ones with something else, for a bit of texture: the frizzled shallots are pretty easy to make, and they add a bit of a special touch to the otherwise simple soup.
Roasted Cauliflower Soup (serves 2)
1 head cauliflower
1 tablespoon ghee, melted
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon butter
1 onion, diced
3 cups chicken broth
1 pinch nutmeg
chives, for garnish
salt and pepper, to taste
crème fraiche (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the cauliflower into florets, and arrange in an even layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with ghee, and add the unpeeled garlic cloves. Season with salt and toss well to combine. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
Heat the butter in a Dutch oven, and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent and slightly browned, about 10 minutes.
Add the cauliflower florets and the chicken broth to the pot. Peel the garlic cloves and add them as well. Simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes, then purée. Add the nutmeg, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
While the soup is cooking, Thinly slice the shallots. Heat about a half-inch of vegetable oil in a pot, and add the shallots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Serve the soup sprinkled with fried shallots, chopped chives, and a spoonful of crème fraiche, if desired.