I've been in a beer mood lately. I'm not a big beer drinker and would normally prefer a buttery Chardonnay or a crisp pinot to the stuff, but just lately I have opted for a cold bottle of something or other. With my limited exposure to different kinds of beer and different brands, I can say my favorite is Great Lakes beer—Eliot Ness, Edmund Fitzgerald, Oktoberfest. The other day, though, my grocery store was offering samples of Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale. The 25-cent swig wasn't bad, so I bought a six-pack to share with my neighbor who has a basement refrigerator filled with different kinds of beer. I get the impression she's a bit of a connoisseur.
With this brew-focus guiding me, I was drawn to a recent New York Times article by Mark Bittman about cooking with beer, and one of the recipes he suggested is Ale, Cheddar and Cauliflower Soup, so I made that for Sunday's lunch and served it with shrimp and lobster salad sandwiches. The combination was nice, but on its own, I think the soup could have more punch. The next time I make this, I may choose different kinds of cheese like Gruyere mixed with the cheddar, or maybe some creamy Havarti. Here, I used half sharp yellow and half sharp white cheddar. I also used a Belgian white ale because I couldn't find dark ale where I was shopping—that might have affected the flavor, but in my ignorance, I can't say for sure. See what you think.
2 tablespoons butter
4 ounces bacon, chopped, optional
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium celery rib, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Salt and black pepper
1 small cauliflower, cored and chopped
2 12-ounce bottles Brooklyn Local 2, Westmalle Dubbel or another beer in the Belgian dark-abbey-ale style
3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon mustard
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Chopped fresh cilantro or chives for garnish.
1. Put the butter in a large pot over medium heat. When it melts, add the bacon (if you’re using it) and cook until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and some salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the cauliflower, beer, stock, bay leaf and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles steadily; cover and cook until the cauliflower is very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Stir in the mustard, and purée the soup with an immersion blender or semi-purée it with a potato masher.
3. Toss together the cheddar and cornstarch. Add the cheese mixture to the soup a handful at a time, stirring all the while, until it’s well incorporated and the soup is smooth. Serve hot, garnished with the herb.