Does everyone know about the glorious versatility of roasted garlic? I hope so. But just in case you don’t, the next time you’ve got your oven going for at least the better part of an hour, roast some and you’ll see. Just take a whole head of garlic, cut it in half horizontally, so you get through all the cloves, drizzle each half with olive oil, wrap each in foil, and roast for 45 minutes or so. Let it cool slightly, and then squeeze out the cloves.
Slather some on toast while it’s still warm, sprinkle with salt, and devour. Save the rest to whisk into vinaigrette, purée into hummus or other bean dips, add to marinades, stews, soups. There are as many uses as there are cooks.
Roasted garlic adds depth of flavor to the most basic recipes. Take a simple cauliflower soup like the one I spied in “Little Bird Goodness” by Megan May (Penguin Books, 2017). You simmer cauliflower florets in vegetable broth until they’re tender, then blend the affair with cashews (for plant-based creaminess) and, yes, a whole head’s worth of roasted garlic. What would have surely been pale, bland and boring turns into something with an almost mysterious backdrop of nutty sweetness.
As we head into soup season, it’s a trick to remember. If you’re like me, you’ll appreciate the idea so much that you’ll want to make one important amendment to the advice I gave at the top of this column. Don’t roast a whole head of garlic. Roast two, at least.
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Cauliflower & roasted garlic soup
Yield: 4 servings (makes about 5 cups)
Adapted from “Little Bird Goodness,” by Megan May (Penguin, 2017).
1 head garlic
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets (8 cups)
3/4 cup raw cashews
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1/4 cup Blanched Basil Oil, for garnish (optional)
Fresh pea shoots, for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Discard the loose outer layers of papery peel from the head of garlic, then cut it in half horizontally and drizzle each half with the oil. Wrap each half in a small piece of aluminum foil, place on a small baking sheet and roast (middle rack) until the cloves are very tender and caramel-colored, 40 to 50 minutes. Unwrap and let cool, then pick or squeeze out each roasted clove and discard the skins.
Combine the broth and the cauliflower in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Once the liquid comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, so it’s barely bubbling. Cook until you can easily mash the cauliflower against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat, then add the roasted garlic cloves and 1/2 cup of the cashews. Chop the remaining 1/4 cup of cashews and reserve for the garnish.
Use an immersion (stick) blender to puree the soup until smooth. It will be fairly thick. (Alternatively, you can puree the soup in batches in a blender, being careful to not fill it more than halfway to avoid splatters.)
Wipe out the saucepan, and return the pureed soup to it, over medium-low heat. Stir in the salt and pepper; cook until the flavors meld, about 15 minutes. Taste, and adjust the seasoning, as needed.
To serve, divide the soup among individual bowls. Top each portion with the chopped cashews, a drizzle of the basil oil and pea shoots, if using.