Genius Cauliflower Soup From Paul Bertolli Recipe on Food52 (2024)

5 Ingredients or Fewer

by: Genius Recipes



75 Ratings

  • Prep time 7 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 13 minutes
  • Serves 8

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Author Notes

This soup might seem plain, but trust us. Paul Bertolli, who was at the helm of Chez Panisse and Oliveto for over 20 years, knows exactly how to make a vegetable become the best it can be. This recipe comes from Cooking by Hand, Bertolli's IACP award-winning book of recipes and essays, and makes for a soup that's delicate, sweet, and smooth as a flannel scarf. —Genius Recipes

Test Kitchen Notes

When our Genius Recipes columnist and creative director, Kristen Miglore, was sent this recipe back in 2011, she was more than a little bit doubtful. How could putting a cauliflower and an onion in a pot with water, and more water, and more water (!), ever result in a bowl of tastiness? “It sounds a little too Charles Dickens…it’s downright grim,” she wrote.

How happy (and relieved!) she was to be proven wrong. This genius recipe comes from a chef no less genius himself: Paul Bertolli, head chef at Chez Panisse and Oliveto for 20-plus years. In other words, the man knows his way around a vegetable.

Sweating the onions in olive oil, low and slow, makes for a deep, lingering sweetness that forms the backbone of the soup. Stewing the cauliflower florets in that oniony goodness, until everything is utterly soft and melty, is Bertolli’s low-key way of carrying that high-impact vegetal sweetness even further. At this point, you may be tempted to add crème fraîche, bacon, vadouvan, or a knob of butter—but don’t. We dare you. This is one of those instances where less truly yields more; where cauliflower-and-onions is greater than the sum of its parts, two vegetables have made a right, et cetera. You get the point.

Now that you’ve slowly backed away from the butter, plop the stockpot’s contents into a blender and blend until smooth. Let stand for 20 minutes—clean out a junk drawer, go for a walk, meditate—the soup gets all the creamier, dreamier, and more luscious with the wait. —Coral Lee

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

What You'll Need

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Genius Cauliflower Soup From PaulBertolli

  • 3 tablespoonsolive oil
  • 1 medium onion (6 ounces), sliced thin
  • 1 head very fresh cauliflower (about 1-1/2 pounds), broken into florets
  • Salt, to taste
  • 5 1/2 cupswater, divided
  • Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over low heat without letting it brown for 15 minutes.
  2. Add the cauliflower, salt to taste, and 1/2 cup water. Raise the heat slightly, cover the pot tightly and stew the cauliflower for 15 to 18 minutes, or until tender. Then add another 4 1/2 cups hot water, bring to a low simmer and cook an additional 20 minutes uncovered.
  3. Working in batches, purée the soup in a blender to a very smooth, creamy consistency (or use an immersion blender). Let the soup stand for 20 minutes. In this time it will thicken slightly.
  4. Thin the soup with 1/2 cup hot water. Reheat the soup. Serve hot, drizzled with a thin stream of extra-virgin olive oil and freshly ground black pepper.


  • Soup
  • American
  • Vegetable
  • Cauliflower
  • Make Ahead
  • Serves a Crowd
  • One-Pot Wonders
  • 5 Ingredients or Fewer
  • Christmas
  • Thanksgiving
  • Winter
  • Fall

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Jasser Abu-Giemi

  • Marden

  • Cheryl Zelus

  • Teresa Wells

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

Popular on Food52

388 Reviews

Regine July 20, 2023

Sometimes, less is more, and this recipe perfectly exemplifies this. A delicate soup which takes time, but elevates a simple dish to dinner party status. Next time, I'll try the suggestion of salting the onions as they cook. I also want to try leeks instead of onions or combined to them. It would be interesting adding a touch of sorrel, if available. Any other change, I feel, would ruin the delicate flavour.

Eileen June 1, 2023

A local restaurant has a signature cauliflower soup and published the directions on Twitter. It's this soup, possibly less onion and less water: olive oil, one onion, two heads cauliflower. The chef salts the onion as it is cooking in the olive oil. I have made it exactly like this and also by adding obvious things: rosemary, butter, cheese, capers, cream - just one at a time. The doctored soup is never as good as the pure thing. It is fantastic. If yours is not I suggest more salt, less water, or higher quality cauliflower.

MissMunchkin April 19, 2023

wonderful soup! I added a pinch of white pepper to give it a little omf .I definitely will do it again. thanks !

Eliza March 1, 2023

Don’t be fooled by the simplicity of the recipe. This soup goes miles and is very versatile to dress up as you like. I put my own twist on it and made it with 6 oz of leeks instead of onion. Since the recipe strongly recommends really fresh cauliflower this is impossible for me if it’s not in season. I did 2/3 cauliflower 1/3 baby cauliflower to give it that fresh flavor but not be overtly sweet. It is really good and it does not need any broth if you follow the proportions of the recipe and cook it like it’s states.

Helaine February 19, 2023

I decided to trust the recommendation not to change the recipe even though it was hard to imagine this soup not needing a boost of some kind. I just love recipes that are deceptively simple, containing few ingredients but due to the technique packing a flavorful punch. This soup is delicious! I will be making it again.

Djbrilz05 February 15, 2023

Absolutely delicious! I topped with scallions and added extra fresh ground pepper and salt. This is a keeper.

sharon B. February 14, 2023

Whooo boy. This is 100% a keeper. Followed others’ suggestions and used vege broth with a splash of chix and water, but followed the instructions exactly. Outstanding! This will be the go to for the soup course at dinner parties. Top it with truffle salt…bacon…candied, spiced nuts…generous parmigiana. Can’t go wrong.
It’s perfectly understated, yet tasty and satisfying. So very good.

TBlankley February 12, 2023

I was very disappointed by the outcome from this recipe. I had decided that the absence of flavor might be due to a less than very fresh cauliflower head but reading the other reviews makes me realize that the flavorless result was not solely my own experience.

nutcakes February 12, 2023

You likely understated.

Eileen June 1, 2023

The soup does need a lot of salt. As with another similar recipe, add the salt to the onions as they are sweating in the olive oil. I think you get more flavor that way.

Bonnie February 8, 2023

This is quite similar to a better NYTimes recipe that seriously upgrades flavor by combining with a quickly made rosemary oil. Chicken broth and lemon (they say zest, I prefer juice) make the soup hauntingly flavorful instead of bland.

khart January 25, 2023

My soup came out without much flavor. My friend used chicken broth and hers was better than my version. Does anyone know the calorie count for this soup so I can log it into Noom?

Teresa W. January 26, 2023

Hi @khart, its 64 calories per cup if you made it exactly from the recipe according to my recipe calculator which is obviously just an estimate - but hopefully helpful. I love this soup, it does need the best of ingredients and while I have decided over the years not to use chicken broth, I do like it with toppings like pesto or something like a pico de Gallo. Hope this is helpful.

Karenteacher February 5, 2023

If you enter the ingredients into Noom as a custom dish, Noom will provide a calorie count.

Davish November 8, 2022

If you’ve ever ordered potato soup and thought mm-mm good, then this healthier version of Warm goodness will definitely be a winner. Loved it down to the last drop.

Jasser A. June 19, 2022

It’s basically hot white water with a tad bit of salt. Not appealing.

Gloria June 19, 2022

What a waste of time.No flavor. Not inedible, but now I have to make a meal that has taste and substance. Look elsewhere....

Gloria June 19, 2022

Seriously disappointing. Tasteless.

Lindsay N. July 20, 2023

So wrong, you may have used poor quality ingredients

Anne M. January 1, 2022

I was looking for an elegant soup for a New Year’s Eve dinner. This soup is velvety but tasteless. We added Parmesan and hot sauce. Would be good with a swirl of pesto.

Susan January 1, 2022

I felt the same way. Using black garlic adds depth of flavor too.

Marden December 30, 2021

Just made this favorite recipe again for the umpteenth time. I usually follow exact directions but today since our family is battling the flu, I added a whole bulb of garlic to the steaming cauliflower. Hoping the medicinal properties of the garlic will speed the healing along. The flavor is still mild and absolutely delicious!

Julie B. December 30, 2021

I love this soup. I often top it with truffle oil (not too much!) and it's just so warm and cozy on a cold night. It's simple, yes, but therein lies the beauty. It's a wonderful expression of cauliflower. Follow the recipe - I can't imagine using any sort of stock, I think it would take away from the pure taste. I have tried substituting leeks and shallots for the onion, and decidedly prefer using a sweet white onion, which compliments but doesn't overwhelm the cauliflower. So easy to make too. An absolute winner.

Cheryl Z. October 29, 2021

I was dubious, but if you follow these directions faithfully this soup is superb.

judy September 18, 2021

after reading reviews, made with no sodium aded vegetable broth. I also ALWAYS use the green from the cauliflower--actually my favorite part. if I can get to a farmers market, I try and get one that hans't been trimmed yet. Anyway, this was delicious. But I think would have been too subtle flavor with only water. thanks.

Mary September 1, 2021

Made this as close to recipe as I ever do. It was good and I used as a soup base. It's a blank slate with the mild flavor and can accommodate many additions either lumpy like veggies or finer like curry powder/spices. It's also fine as a classic first course if you entertain that way. I don't.

Genius Cauliflower Soup From Paul Bertolli Recipe on Food52 (2024)
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