Smashingly elegant roasted cauliflower soup may be the easiest, most versatile starter in the universe

There's nothing easier and more satisfying than making a fabulous soup simply by simmering vegetables in chicken broth then puréeing them till smooth and velvety. It's something I've done a million times, with so many different vegetables: broccoli; leeks with potatoes; asparagus; cauliflower or a combo of several. 

It has long been one of my go-to soups when I want a quick weeknight fix that's satisfying and delicious, but also low calorie, super healthful and dairy-free. A serving is only about 100 calories, and it's packed with nutrition. It needs no cream for its lovely body, though if you want to enrich it with cream or crème fraîche, that's a different kind of great. 

I've also, on many occasions, served a cauliflower version as a starter at a dinner party. Why? It's easy and stress-fee, you can make it ahead, everyone loves it, and you can dress it up with so many kinds of garnishes. Crisped-then-crumbled prosciutto (or yes, bacon). Shaved white truffles (if you're lucky enough to have one). Fried sage. You could even substitute vegetable broth for the chicken broth, and voilà, it's vegan.

A couple nights ago something dawned on me. I love this soup. And I love roasted cauliflower. Why not roast the cauliflower first, as an easy way of deepening the flavor?

And so I did, and served the soup – garnished with a swirl of brown butter – as a first course for a French-themed Christmas Eve dinner.  It was a hit. It's really kind of incredible that you can get such a bang from such few ingredients (three), and such humble ones (cauliflower, chicken broth, olive oil. I'm not counting white pepper). Plus the garnish, which is just butter.

The next day, I did it again, and garnished it with harissa sauce – made in two seconds flat by combining harissa from a tube with a little chicken broth. Swirled that in, I did. And wow. It gave the soup a completely different character: exotic, North Africanish. Delicious. I love harissa. 

If you love cauliflower, please try this soup. I guarantee you will love it.