A cauliflower soup with pesto and truffle oil to unite a nation

Today we’re celebrating Evacuation Day with a cauliflower soup to heal a nation. Why?

On 24 November, 1783 the last British troops left New York City, which had been occupied by them for several years previously when they had made Manhattan their war HQ.

It may seem strange to be celebrating such an event in the UK, but, bruised and bloodied ourselves from the polarisation caused by Brexit, we watch with concern the chasm opening on the other side of the pond in the States.

But in September 1783 George Washington praised the men “who came from different parts of the continent, strongly disposed…. to despise and quarrel with each other”, but who, nevertheless, became “but one patriotic band of brothers”. In his Farewell Orders to the Armies of the United States, Washington exhorted these ex-soldiers to carry with them into civilian life their “strong attachments to union”.

Such harmony is to be celebrated – the world needs a strong, unified America. And, us Brits did in the end get the last laugh. In order to prevent a worsening of the lawlessness that was already besetting the city, the plan was that, as soon as all the troops were safely aboard their ships, and the British flag at Fort George brought down, there would be a blast of thirteen cannon shots alerting Washington that he could process into the city and raise the American flag.

But there was a hitch. Before leaving some British soldiers took down their flag’s halyard – making it impossible to lower, and they also greased the flagpole and took away the cleats. Eventually, a young enterprising American sergeant, John Van Arsdale, began nailing in cleats, and scaling the flagpole. The following day was marked by celebrations involving fireworks, parades, military displays and much else.  

cauliflower soup recipe
Evacuating New York – you can see the problematic flagpole in the distance.

A century later New Yorkers were still celebrating, and at Delmonico’s there was guests participated in a twelve course feast, beginning with oysters, followed by a choice of chicken consommé or cauliflower soup.

how to make the best cauliflower soup
A formidable twelve-course feast, beginning with cauliflower soup

It’s appropriate, then, that the inspiration for this recipe for cauliflower soup comes from Edward – a New Yorker whose home is filled with the scent of fabulous food, with warm chords of jazz, and which looks out over stunning views of Manhattan. Edward is a ninety-something widower, and the main character in Isabel Vincent’s memoir, Dinner With Edward. In his own words it goes like this:

““I was so looking forward to having you try my cauliflower soup,” he told me on the phone. Cauliflower soup? “Yes, with truffle oil and reconstituted dried mushrooms.” The idea of cauliflower soup with truffle oil sounded simply too delicious and I asked Edward to give me the recipe right there and then. “Well, first, you sweat the onions. You add some good chicken stock, and then you stir in the cauliflower pieces,” he said by way of explanation. “You cook them down, and then you use an immersion blender [aka a stick blender] to mix everything together.” The truffle oil and the reconstituted mushrooms are added as garnishes at the end, he said. I don’t know why I felt compelled to make that soup, but after I wrote down Edward’s instructions, I put on my clothes with great difficulty, popped a few painkillers, and headed to the nearest Fairway to buy the ingredients. I spent an inordinate amount of time weighing the differences between white and black truffle oil. I knew nothing about truffle oil, so I finally opted for the black—an unfortunate choice I learned back home when I called Edward.”

Isabel Vincent, Dinner with Edward: an uplifting story of food and friendship

This is how I made mine. By cooking the cauliflower in milk you keep it from discolouring – the creamy white soup contrasts rather beautifully with the dark green pesto.

A variation of this soup would be to add some toasted cumin seeds and paprika, and substitute the pesto, truffle oil and mushrooms for some chorizo, pre-fried to a crisp and to be crimson in a little hot olive oil.

cauliflower soup

Music to cook to

It’s got to be An Englishman in New York, sung by Sting.

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