I’m part of a weekly Zoom-based happy hour the host has dubbed “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” after the 1972 Luis Buñuel film. For those unfamiliar with the flick, it’s a surreal, direly French exploration of a party of upper-middle-class swells attempting—and largely failing—to dine together. Given the quarantine, this plot also reflects the state of the American dinner party (apart from the class bit in my case—to quote Richard Fariña, “I’ve been down so long it looks like up to me”). And this—despite the depths of my misanthropy and an introverted disposition so profound that my personality has actually turned inside out and appears extroverted—this is among what I miss: dinner parties.
That said, I refuse to attempt a Zoom dinner party. Not only would it virtualize poorly (the cacophony of overlapping conversations and drunken laughter alone would cause Zoom’s audio processing to implode), we should preserve a few social activities to share together in the future when this is all over. In the meantime, host a dinner party with your partners in quarantine and wow them with this simple but classy Quarantine Cauliflower Bisque inspired by a recipe in Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook:
Quarantine Cauliflower Bisque
1 large cauliflower bashed into its constituent florets with 2 cups set aside.
1 large potato, diced (but don’t bother peeling).
3 cloves of garlic, peeled (but don’t bother chopping).
1 carrot, peeled and chopped.
1 onion, chopped.
1 small (like, tiny) fennel bulb, chopped.
2 tsp. of salt.
4 cups of water.
1 cup of milk.
1 tsp. of dill.
½ tsp. of caraway seeds (whatever those are—the only Carraway I know was Nick in The Great Gatsby. File under “optional”).
Black pepper, to taste.
2 cups of grated cheddar.
Put everything in a stockpot except the 2 cups of reserved cauliflower, milk and cheese. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Meanwhile, toss the reserved cauliflower and fennel bulb with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees for 20 minutes (or until just browned). When the simmering veggies have softened, purée with a handheld immersion blender (the high walls of the stockpot will keep the slapstick to a minimum). Alternately, carefully pour into a blender, purée and then return to the stockpot.
Add the roasted cauliflower and fennel. And now the magic part: add the cheese. Initially, for me, the notion of molten globs of cheddar in a soup seemed as appetizing as nacho cheese in a Lava Lamp. I was wrong. The cheese dissipates and adds velvety creaminess to the texture. Serve hot, perhaps with a salt and vinegar chip atop as a garnish.