Farmers' Market Share: Freaky-Ass Cauliflower Soup

click to enlarge Farmers' Market Share: Freaky-Ass Cauliflower Soup
Alissa Nelson
This week I bought a $6 head of cauliflower. It was purple -- which was novel -- and it was locally grown, which is obviously what this blog is all about. But, ultimately, it was a single head of cauliflower that cost $6.

Can I get political for a moment?

This past spring, Alice Waters -- the proprietor of the venerable Chez Panisse restaurant and the mother of the Slow Food movement in America -- raised a ton of backlash among the food blog world when she made an appearance on 60 Minutes. (Google it if you want to know more and see the video itself.) In short, she suggested that low-income households were choosing Nikes over eating sustainable, organic, local foods. The problem with Waters' comments was not that she wanted people to eat healthy, but that she implied everyone has the option to eat the same food that she does.

Obviously I have a bias here, writing a blog emphasizing a local and sustainable approach to eating. I think that supporting local small farmers is absolutely essential for the health of our bodies, our environment and our economy. And I think that there's a fundamental problem in our food production and distribution system: Walk into a supermarket on the North Side and tell me that the poor in this country aren't unfairly saddled with the products of industrial agriculture and corn subsidies.

We are so fortunate to have lots of locally grown options in the St. Louis area, and there are plenty of shop owners and farmers' market managers that work to make healthy food available to low-income households. There are a surprising number of local stores and farmers' markets that take food stamp benefits -- Local Harvest Grocery and Black Bear Bakery, to name a couple off the top of my head.

However, food stamps are an in-kind benefit: You get only a dollar amount, not a guaranteed quantity of goods. So you can buy that $6 loaf of hearty whole grain bread (or purple cauliflower), or you can pay $2 for a loaf of Wonderbread (or regular old plastic-wrapped supermarket cauliflower) and see your money go a little further. And that's only when you have the option for the fancy bread (or cauliflower). Other than the Old North Farmer's Market, I don't think there are a lot of shops offering the choice in poor neighborhoods.

So where does this leave me and my $6 cauliflower? I do all that I can to support local agriculture, and I do save myself a lot of money by preparing things myself, like the chicken and vegetable stocks that I use in the following recipe. But I'm also fortunate enough to have the choice to take an extra few hours every week to prep these things -- or to spend a few extra dollars to put my money where my mouth is (and vice versa) because I'm not worried about losing my job right now or getting my lights shut off. Fresh local food shouldn't be a luxury that only a few of us can afford, especially when the farmers need the business just as much as the eaters need the vegetables.

Freaky-Ass Cauliflower Soup

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

click to enlarge Farmers' Market Share: Freaky-Ass Cauliflower Soup
Alissa Nelson
I imagine that if you have kids who are really ambivalent about all things out of the ground, it might help to have some weird color action going on. This was actually the second time I'd made the soup in a week (which is huge for me because I HATE food repetition), and I made it with regular old white cauliflower the first time. Honestly, the color kind of weirds me out, so you can also try golden varieties if you want something wacky without being a total psychedelic freakout. This literally takes half an hour to prep and cook, so do consider it.

I also scored some amazing chestnuts this week, so the pictured soup is topped with a roasted chestnut purée -- roast chestnuts or buy a jar, add water, blend -- but, sadly, the soup really overpowered the purée. Stay tuned, there may be a chestnut recipe in the works for next week.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 head cauliflower, leaves and big stems removed, coarsely chopped
1 quart (4 cups) stock, chicken or even mushroom, if you are ambitious and vegetarian
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated fresh parmesan (none of that granulated plastic container shit)
1. Heat the olive oil in a stock pot, then add onion. Cook until just soft but not brown.

2. Add the cauliflower and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes. When you open the lid, the cauliflower should be falling apart.

3. Remove from the heat. If you have an immersion blender, use it here. If not, cool the soup for a little bit before transferring it in batches to a blender or food processor.

4. Return to the heat. Add cheese while stirring. Salt and pepper to your liking.

Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Every Wednesday she seeks the bounty of local farmers' markets -- and then cooks it.

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