After a wait of almost six months, I finally scored a copy of Craig Claiborne's New New York Times Cookbook
(copyright date: 1975; a very good year indeed) from PaperBackSwap. The Soups chapter was fairly thin, but fairly interesting-looking.
One that caught my eye was titled, in true old-school haute-cuisine style, Crème DuBarry. At first blush, it's a fairly standard cauliflower soup: pureed vegetable/stock base, finished with milk and a little cream. What caught my attention was the name. I'd just learned that Potage Crécy,or carrot soup, got its name from the site of a particularly nasty battle during the Hundred Years' War. Claiborne's terse headnote for this soup explained: "No one knows at what point… cauliflower and the Comtesse DuBarry, mistress to Louis XV, became eternally associated. But on any menu, a dish bearing the name DuBarry indicates the invariable presence of cauliflower."
Compare that dry bit of culinary minutiae to this far livelier snippet from the explanation given at one of my favorite food blogs, The Old Foodie:
The beautiful Jean Becu, Comtesse Du Barry was guillotined on this day
in 1793, in her fiftieth year. She did not go quietly – weary and
accepting – like Marie-Antoinette. In her last hysterical moments she
wept and pleaded with the executioner for "Encore un moment, monsieur le bourreau, un petit moment".
A sad and undignified end for a beautiful woman who had had an
undignified beginning as an illegitimate seamstress but – thanks to her
great beauty – rose to enjoy a powerful and extravagant life as a
courtesan and the last mistress of Louis XV.
So this delicate (honestly, as written, a little overly so) soup is forever linked to the altogether indelicate image of a middle-aged French aristocrat pleading for her life. It hardly seems fitting for such a mild (honestly, as written, perhaps a little too mild) dish.
This recipe is not exactly what I did with the soup, but rather what I would do if I were to make it again–there's a bit more punch and maybe a bit more appeal to post-1975 culinary tastes. (It also cuts out a couple of steps in Claiborne's recipe that seem, in retrospect, unnecessary.) It's a nice base recipe, though, and I'm looking forward to trying several more of Claiborne's soups… especially the Billi Bi, a cream of mussel soup that was a one-time signature dish at Maxim's in Paris. (Looks like that soup could well be the occasion for another historical digression.)
(And be on the lookout, soon, for an altogether different cauliflower soup: one with plenty of sauteed onion and garlic and ginger and some nice homemade curry-style seasonings. Maybe next week.)
1 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 small to medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
One large cauliflower, cored and broken into large florets, a few florets reserved (maybe 2 to 2.5 pounds? Claiborne's original recipe called for 3 pounds and I think that was a little too much.)
1/2 cup raw rice
1 tsp salt
3 cups milk
1/2 tsp nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
1/4 to 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (start with less, then add more if you like it)
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Heat butter or olive oil in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, one minute more.
Add broth, cauliflower, rice and salt. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, or until cauliflower is very tender. Shortly before simmering time is finished, chop the reserved florets roughly and steam or microwave them until barely tender (like 2 minutes in a steamer).
Remove from heat and allow to cool for a minute or two. Puree with an immersion blender or, in batches, using a food processor, If using a food processor, rather than pureeing the last batch perfectly smooth, pulse it until it's still got some texture to it.
Return puree to pot. Over medium heat, whisk in milk, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Bring just to a boil; remove from heat and stir in cream. Taste for salt and pepper and sprinkle chopped reserved cauliflower overtop before serving.
(And one quick note: If you had some pesto hanging around for some reason, and you were to drizzle a swirl of the bright-green stuff over each bowl of this soup, I have a premonition that the combination would be both lovely and thoroughly appetizing.)