When I go to the Boulder Farmers' Market -- as I did Saturday -- a kind of madness possesses me. I purchase a handful of market bucks with my credit card (a useful feature; these bucks can be exchanged for anything at any vendor's stall, and you'll get your change -- if any -- in cash; there's also a handy ATM) and then I treat those pieces of paper like monopoly money. I over-buy for several reasons: There's something new and exciting for sale; I can't walk past a vendor I like without at least purchasing one thing from his or her stand; I forget I've already got the vegetable crispers in the house jammed to the max; I've spent so long chatting with a particular farmer about the weather that I'm embarrassed to move off without purchasing; a pyramid of carrots, snow peas and turnips is coruscating with color and vitality and calling to me. Or because I'm making a list of wonderful dishes in my head that just need a little basil, half a dozen eggs, some mushrooms. And when the first cherries, peaches or melons appear -- cherries right now -- I become a madwoman, buying huge quantities at a time. Somehow, strolling Thirteenth Street, I manage to forget there are only a few days between this visit to the market and the next, and no matter how greedy I'm feeling, there's only a certain amount of food that can be accommodated by the stomachs of my tiny family.
We're coming onto the best season of the year for eating: English peas, little new potatoes whose skins you can rub off with a finger, the first squash and zucchini. The onions are tender and new and the garlic hasn't been cured yet, which makes the tastes gentle, springlike and evocative rather than harsh. At this time of year, even the simplest things you cook taste so incredibly alive. You find your cooking lavishly praised at dinnertime for ordinary boiled potatoes or coins of squash with a little fresh dill.
All this is why I find myself this Saturday buying broccoli, cauliflower and a new kind of cabbage I've never encountered before because it's the bright green of a Napa but wrinkled like a savoy: Oxford Gardens' Peter Volz said he'd seen it in a catalog and bought the seeds on impulse. (By the way, Oxford Gardens has instituted a Food for Work program: Sweat a little in the fields and you go home with a basket of fresh produce. Details and contact information can be found on their website). You'll have noticed all three of these purchases are members of the brassica family, which means that though they're very healthy eating, one would have been enough for the week.
I've recently been binge watching a strange English show called Come Dine With Me on YouTube, in which four strangers each cook dinner for the others in turn, accompanied by the voice of a very snarky narrator. The diners then allot grades to each others' evenings, and the one with the highest score wins. I'm learning lots from this show. For instance, that it's a bad idea to make a dish you've never made before for guests and that sometimes the prettiest or most handsome diner will win even if he or she is a truly shitty cook. I've learned that the English have changed a lot since I left my home there all those years ago. They exchange air kisses, for example. "What's the matter with you people?" I want to yell at the screen. "Do you think you're French?" Also that the Brits have absorbed enough foodie chat to carry on endlessly about the importance of presentation. But the most important thing I've learned is that there's no accounting for tastes. A contestant will shoot his own deer, dress it, cook it with juniper berries and lose to someone who's made dessert out of a packet. Another host sears beautiful fat scallops perfectly and serves them in a citrusy preparation with an artful tangle of greens on top and one the guests makes a little moue and says, "I'm sorry. I just don't like seafood."
There have been several disparaging comments about cauliflower soup on Come Dine With Me, but I'm choosing to ignore them. Cauliflower soup is lovely, warm and welcoming, earthy yet light. So that's what I made with the cauliflower from Red Wagon. Gordon Ramsey tops his cauliflower soup with caviar, but basil oil did it for me.
Keep reading for a cauliflower soup recipe...
For the soup: One onion, chopped A garlic clove or two, also chopped. (I recently read that garlic is even more good for you than usual if you let it sit ten minutes after chopping. Worth a try.) A large head of cauliflower, florets separated out, center chopped relatively fine. Four or five cups of chicken stock Butter and olive oil Salt and pepper A glug of half-and-half or cream if you wish.
For the oil: A bunch or two of basil Olive oil (I mixed in a little canola to mellow things out because my basil was a touch bitter and so was this olive oil)
Directions: 1. Sweat the onion in butter and olive oil. I think the flavor is a tad richer if you do this fairly long and slow--eight to ten minutes. But don't let the onion brown. 2. Add the garlic and saute just until fragrant--about thirty-five seconds. 3. Add the cauliflower. Season with salt and pepper. Stir, and let it saute for a few minutes. 4. Add stock and a bit of water if you need more liquid. Let the soup simmer until the cauliflower is soft, about twenty minutes. Keep tasting: You might find this soup needs more salt than you expect.
While this is happening, make your basil oil: 1. Prepare a bowl of ice water. 2. Wash the basil and drop it into briskly boiling water for ten or fifteen seconds. Strain and plunge swiftly into the ice water. 3. Put the basil and oils in a food processor. When everything's pretty much liquefied, pour into a dispenser of some sort.
Now puree the soup with a hand mixer. If you like -- or if you think the taste's a little sulfurous -- you can swirl in the cream and warm it back up. Taste for seasoning again.
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Theoretically you should strain the basil oil, but I didn't have the patience. Which meant the green swirls I made on the surface of our bowls of soup weren't very pretty. But the taste was great. And nobody's scoring my dinners!