This creamy soup gets its body from pureed cauliflower, though some tender whole florets are added just at the end of cooking to add texture. Sharp cheddar and cayenne give the mellow flavor a little lift.Kosher salt
1/2 head cauliflower (about 1 lb.), cored and cut into 1-1/2-inch florets
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, small diced
1 medium clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. packed, freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cayenne
2 cups lower-salt chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups grated sharp or extra-sharp white Cheddar (about 14 oz.)
Freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil the cauliflower until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and let cool slightly. Trim the stems from 18 of the cauliflower pieces and cut the crowns into mini florets about 1/2 inch wide; set aside. Reserve the trimmed stems with the remaining larger pieces.
Melt the butter in a 4-quart saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and 1/4 tsp. salt and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 10 to 12 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook until the aroma subsides, 2 to 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium, add the flour, nutmeg, and cayenne and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Whisk in the broth, cream, and 2 cups water. Add the thyme and bring to a simmer. Stir in the cheese until melted and simmer for 5 minutes to develop the flavors.
Remove and discard the thyme stems and stir in the larger cauliflower pieces and reserved stems. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot, season with salt and black pepper to taste. Add the mini cauliflower florets and reheat gently before serving.
Variation: To dress up this rustic soup for a special occasion, garnish with a combination of 3 Tbs. toasted chopped walnuts, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh parsley, and 1-1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest.
Serving Suggestion: Pair the soup with an assertive arugula salad with grapefruit and olives. The tangy acidity of the salad cuts through the richness of the soup.
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