When we were in Providence, Beth made this soup for us. I believe it is from a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living. It is not very pretty, looking as it does like library paste, but it tastes very good, and a pot gave all three of us lunch for days. This version was what I could dredge up from my memory; if it's inaccurate, the alteration seems to have done it no harm. The main thing is that it is very, very easy. Very. Startlingly, even. And it is quite cheap for the quantity of food it produces. It is also very good for bearded, bespectacled boys who live in my apartment, as an added bonus, which is not so much of a bonus for anyone who is not us, I suppose. But it would be good for you, too. So have some.
CAULIFLOWER AND FENNEL SOUP
1 bulb of fennel
1 medium potato
1 medium onion
7 cups vegetable broth, or 7 cups water and bullion cubes to go along
2 bay leaves
10 whole cloves
1/2 c. milk
shell-less pumpkin seeds, often sold under the name "pepitos"
a bit of olive oil
Remove the leaves and lower stalk from the cauliflower. Cut what remains into irregular 2" chunks. No need to be fancy. Dump into a large soup pot. Cut the stalks and feathery foliage away from your fennel bulb and save them for some other purpose. Trim off the dirty, woody bottom as well. Cut what remains into chunks and add to the pot. Chop up the potato and onion similarly. Pop the bay leaves and cloves into a wad of cheesecloth or something of that sort, tie up, and throw that into the pot as well. Add broth to pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, partially covered, until everything is very very soft, about 40 minutes.
Remove the spice bundle and then puree the soup by whatever method you prefer. I used my ordinary old blender; Beth has an immersion blender, which worked nicely too, and avoids the issue of transfering hot liquids and dirtying another pot when you need a place to keep the pureed batches while unpureed soup remains in your original soup pot. Get the pureed soup back into that pot and stir in the milk. Add nutmeg, salt, and pepper to taste. When you're ready to eat, heat this mixture up until it is steaming but not boiling. Serve with freshly toasted pumpkin seeds.
So while the soup awaits its final curtain call, you will toast up a handful of pumpkin seeds in a bit of olive oil, with salt. They will get brown and puff up most gratifyingly. You don't need much oil; if you find they seem too greasy, just drain them on a paper towel or brown paper bag for a minute or two before you eat them. I think it's nice to let each person sprinkle their own seeds over the soup at the table.
All of this keeps very well and is even better the next day, as is so often the case with soups. It is excellent with a salad dressed with something vinegary.