White florets in a cauliflower soup

A fresh cauliflower of good quality looks and smells as beautiful as a bouquet and, when cooked only until tender but still crisp, will look very attractive at serving time.

It is in season now and plentiful. A new variety called Snowball is very white and attractive.

When shopping for cauliflower you'll want to choose the whitest and best looking available, but remember that there's nothing wrong with a few pale brown spots.

Serve boiled or steamed cauliflower with melted butter and parsley, or with Parmesan cheese, or put it cooked in a casserole with cheese and bread crumbs, then brown under a grill or broiler.

This soup recipe is from Michael Smith's cookbook, ''Fine English Cookery'' (Faber & Faber). A food historian, Michael was cookery adviser for the television shows ''Upstairs Downstairs'' and ''The Duchess of Duke Street.''

With Malcolm Livingstone he has just opened another restaurant in London, called the English Garden, at No. 10 Lincoln Street in Chelsea.

This soup is nice because the florets are left intact, which makes it more interesting. The additions of yellow food coloring and a poached or lightly boiled egg are optional. Cauliflower Soup 1 medium-sized white, firm cauliflower 1 pint chicken stock 1 pint milk 2 ounces butter 1 ounce plain flour Grated nutmeg Salt Lemon coloring (see below) 1 poached or lightly boiled egg per person (optional)

Divide cauliflower into finger-tip sized florets. Patience at this time will be rewarding.

Bring stock to the boil. Add florets and poach gently 7 minutes, no longer. With wire strainer, lift out florets and reserve. Add milk to stock and bring to boil.

In a small pan melt butter, stir in flour, and blend well. Whisk this mixture into the now gently boiling milk and stock. Simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt and nutmeg, according to taste.

Now add the merest hint of yellow coloring (known in the trade as 'egg yellow'). You are not aiming at canary yellow, but just a creamy color. This is a technique to be encouraged but take care not to use lemon coloring, as it often has a synthetic flavor.

Strain soup into a clean pan, add florets, and reheat carefully. Serve with poached or lightly boiled eggs if desired.

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