- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

From now until the end of the year, many of us will be dealing with a full house — not the much-sought-after poker hand but a home filled with extra family or friends.

Countless cooks, after preparing the big traditional feast for the 25th, in the following days will be scrambling to entertain and feed a horde of holiday visitors.

Take, for example, the two assistants who help me test recipes every week. Both women have college-age children who will be back in town during school breaks, and both asked me to suggest some simple post-Christmas dishes to have on hand for their ravenous offspring. “Soup is the answer,” I replied, explaining that most are flexible and easy to assemble. Then I reminded them of a delectable cream-of-cauliflower soup I had prepared recently for weekend company. The dish is For serving, the soup is ladled into bowls and garnished with crispy sauteed prosciutto strips, chopped parsley and more Parmesan.

My friends could serve cups of it with sandwiches for lunch or ladle it into bowls to offer with crusty bread and a green salad for a light supper.

Cream-of-cauliflower soup with crispy prosciutto and Parmesan

This soup can be made a day in advance; cool, cover and refrigerate. The soup can also be frozen; defrost before using. Reheat soup, stirring, over medium heat.

2 large cauliflowers (about 2 pounds each)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 cups chopped leeks, white and light-green parts only (3 to 4 medium leeks)

8 cups chicken stock

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided

½ cup creme fraiche

Salt, preferably kosher

1/4 pound prosciutto, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon olive oil

½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Cut cauliflowers into florets to yield about 12 cups.

Melt butter in a large, heavy, deep-sided pot (with a lid) over medium-high heat.

Add leeks and saute, stirring until softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add cauliflower florets, chicken stock and cayenne pepper. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cover pot with a lid. Cook until vegetables are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Puree soup in the pan using a stick blender or transfer it in batches to a food processor or blender. Whisk in half of the cheese and all of the creme fraiche. Season soup with salt to taste, if needed.

Slice prosciutto into strips about 3 to 4 inches long and 1/4 inch wide. Heat olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.

When hot, add prosciutto and saute, stirring constantly, until crisp and browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels.

Ladle soup into 6 soup bowls, and garnish each serving with some prosciutto and parsley. Then sprinkle each with some of the remaining Parmesan cheese. Makes 6 servings.


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