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Creamy Cauliflower Soup auf Siegfried

This soup makes an unusual and sucessful marriage between cauliflower and tarragon--perhaps as good an introduction as any to Jeanne, a fellow opera lover who contributed the recipe. Based in the Chicago area, Jeanne readily confesses her opera fanaticism, recalling a "Ring" season at Lyric opera when she invited friends to celebrate with a wonderful German meal, a game of opera charades, and an invented board game called the "Ring," played with golden nuggets instead of monopoly money. Of course she met the guests at the door in full Brunhilde regalia, sweeping up to the strains of "The Ride of the Valkyries." Needless to say, I tested the recipe to the strains of Siegfried. No wonder it tasted so good. Serve hot to 8-10 people as a first course. It's substantial and earthy with the sweetness of tarragon and the crunch of cheese croutons.

Garnish: toasted cheese croutons--or, as Jeanne suggests, 1/2 cup Goldfish Cheddar Cheese crackers

Heat the butter in a large Dutch oven, toss in onion, and saute until transparent. Add the celery and carrot, cooking for 2 minutes. Add the cauliflowerettes and parsley, cover, and cook over low heat for 15 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Tie the tarragon, peppercorns, and bay into cheesecloth or perforated tin foil, and plunge into the soup. Reduce heat and let simmer.

In another saucepan, melt the remaining 4 Tablespoons of butter and stir in the flour, cooking into a roux for a minute or two. Whisk the milk in gradually. Bring just to a boil and cook until the mixture thickens, whisking constantly. Stir in the cream.

When the sauce is done, pour it with the salt into the soup, and simmer for 20 minutes.

When the soup is ready, remove the herb packet. Jeanne recommends pureeing the whole thing, but the colors and textures are so nice that I prefer either pureeing only half, or just mashing the vegetables in the pot to the desired consistency. Ladle into bowls and top with croutons or crackers.