When the produce from your local store, farmer’s market or your own garden is at its peak, it’s time to make fresh vegetables the star of your meal.
It’s time to make some summer soups.
In summer, you want to enhance your products by bringing out their flavor in the purest and most natural way. The less ornamentation, the less complexity, the better. The other flavors shouldn’t distract you from the garden-fresh goodness of your bounty.
As an added benefit, simple flavors usually come from simple cooking techniques.
In other words, summer soups are both delicious and easy to prepare. Win-win.
I recently made four summer soups. Only one of them was icy, but each, in its own way, was unforgettable.
We’ll start with the cold soup first. It’s called beet-fennel-ginger soup, and along with beets, fennel, and ginger, it’s also made with cabbage and vegetable broth.
“It’s borscht,” said a colleague. “You just made borscht” in March.
“It’s not borscht,” I said. “It’s not just beetroot soup, it’s also cabbage and vegetable broth”
OK, it’s borscht. But this version is made without meat, so it’s a hearty vegetarian meal — or vegan, if you forgo the dollop of yogurt on top.
It’s also lighter in tone and texture than the borscht I’ve made in the past. While it still has the sweet earthy undertone that comes from beets, it’s also enlivened by the exotic, aniseed taste of fennel and the final warm bite of ginger.
When pureed together – and these recipes are going to call for a lot of puree – the ingredients become better than their individual parts. The soup is also light and creamy, perfect for a hot summer evening.
I went the elegant route for my next endeavor, the asparagus and shiitake mushroom soup. The recipe came from the now sadly closed Trellis restaurant, which in its heyday was one of the best restaurants in Virginia.
I’ve made asparagus soup several times and loved it. I’ve made mushroom soup several times and loved it. But I never thought of combining the two into one amazing dish. It takes on the kind of culinary genius possessed by Marcel Desalniers, the pioneering first chef-owner of Trellis.
The resulting soup is beautifully subtle, playing off the delicate, fresh springtime taste of asparagus against the satisfying umami smudge of shiitake mushrooms.
As befits the restaurant that also created the dessert called Death By Chocolate, this soup is not for people counting their Weight Watchers points. A rich roux turns the texture of the soup into velvet, and the flavors are all tied together by a cup of heavy cream.
I used half and half to save some calories. In this way, I felt virtuous and healthy, even though I was not.
My next soup also came from a famous restaurant. Cream of zucchini and almond soup was a dish served at the Walnut Room in the flagship State Street location of the Marshall Field store in Chicago.
And once again, I am in awe of the creativity of the chefs.
Who would have ever thought of combining the herb of zucchini with the warm, nutty crunch of almonds? And then who would think of putting it together in a cream soup?
But that’s not where the brilliance of this dish ends. The soup is distinguished by the subtle addition of sweet spices: a sober blend of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.
It’s soup like you’ve never tasted, unless you’ve been to the Walnut Room.
My last soup is the easiest of all to make. Sugar snap pea soup also tastes the freshest, even though it uses frozen peas.
You can use fresh peas if you can find them.
All you do is simmer the peas, some sweet red pepper, a large piece of onion, and a carrot together in chicken broth, vegetable broth, or even ham broth. When the vegetables are cooked through, but just barely, you puree them to a silky smooth texture.
Salt it generously and serve it, if you wish, with croutons or crumbled bacon.
I used both. It seemed like a summer thing to do.
Yield: 8 servings
2 1/2 cups red beets, peeled and chopped
4 cups chopped cabbage
2 cups chopped fennel
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped ginger
8 cups vegetable broth, divided
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup fat-free yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fennel sprigs
Combine beets, cabbage, fennel, garlic, ginger and 6 cups of broth in a large pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 25 minutes.
Strain the soup through a wide-mesh sieve. Puree the vegetables in 1 cup heated broth in a food processor or blender until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Add the rest of the hot broth and blend. If the soup is not of a runny consistency, add some of the remaining 2 cups of broth until it reaches your desired texture.
Refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. Season with salt and pepper. Serve in chilled bowls, if desired, with yogurt and fennel sprigs.
Per serving: 60 calories; 1 gram of fat; 1 gram of saturated fat; 1 gram of cholesterol; 3 grams of protein; 13 grams of carbohydrates; 8 grams of sugar; 3 grams of fiber; 756 milligrams of sodium; 51 milligrams of calcium.
– Adapted from “Healthy Cooking” by At Home With the Culinary Institute of America
Asparagus and shiitake mushroom soup
Yield: 8 servings
1 pound fresh asparagus
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon of water
4 celery stalks, chopped
2 medium leeks, white part only, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
Salt and pepper
6 cups of chicken broth
7 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup heavy cream or half and half
Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set aside. Bring 3 liters of salted water to a boil.
Break off the woody stem from each asparagus stalk and set aside. Lightly peel half the number of stems. Cut the reserved ends and the remaining unpeeled asparagus into 1/4-inch pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Blanch the peeled asparagus in boiling water. Do not overcook; the asparagus should be cooked but still crisp. Transfer the blanched asparagus to the ice water.
When the blanched asparagus is cool, cut it into 3/4 inch pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
Remove and chop the stems of the mushrooms. Slice and reserve the caps.
Heat vegetable oil and water in a large saucepan over medium heat. When hot, add chopped asparagus (1/4 inch), mushroom stems, celery, leeks and onions. Season with salt and pepper and sauté until the onions are translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.
While the chicken broth heats, melt the butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add flour to make a roux, and cook, stirring constantly, until the roux is bubbling, 6 to 8 minutes. Pour 4 cups of boiling broth into the roux and whisk vigorously until smooth. Add the rest of the broth and the vegetables. Whisk until well blended. Lower the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes.
Purée in blender or food processor. Strain into a 5-quart saucepan and return to low heat. Keep boiling for a few minutes while completing the recipe (Note: if you are not serving the soup within an hour, do not complete the next step until ready to serve; otherwise, the flavor and color delicate asparagus be dissipated).
Heat the cream, sliced shiitakes and 3/4 inch asparagus pieces in a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add it to the soup and adjust the seasoning. Serve immediately. (This soup can be kept warm in a double boiler for up to 1 hour.)
Per serving: 250 calories; 18 grams of fat; 11 grams of saturated fat; 45 grams of cholesterol; 6 grams of protein; 19 grams of carbohydrates; 4 grams of sugar; 3 grams of fiber; 389 milligrams of sodium; 58 milligrams of calcium.
—Recipe from “The Trellis Cookbook” by Marcel Desaulniers
Zucchini and almond soup
Yield: 8 servings
6 tablespoons onion, minced
1 tablespoon of butter
1 1/3 cups zucchini, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
5 cups of chicken broth
2 1/2 tablespoons ground almonds, see note
2/3 cup half and half or heavy cream
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
To note: You can use almond butter for ground almonds. If you don’t have any, grind the slivered almonds in a spice grinder or chop them into small pieces and grind them with a mortar and pestle.
Saute onions in butter until soft. Add zucchini and slivered almonds. Cook, stirring for 3 minutes (zucchini should be barely tender, not mushy). Add the chicken broth and simmer for 15 minutes. Add ground almonds. Simmer 10 minutes. Stir in cream, brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat well.
Per serving: 134 calories; 8 grams of fat; 4 grams of saturated fat; 20 grams of cholesterol; 5 grams of protein; 8 grams of carbohydrates; 4 grams of sugar; 1 gram of fiber; 218 milligrams of sodium; 21 milligrams of calcium.
– Adapted from “Marshall Field’s Gourmet: A Taste of Tradition”
Sweet pea soup
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
4 (1 inch) slices sweet red pepper
1 carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups chicken, ham or vegetable broth
2 cups frozen or fresh peas
Salt, to taste
Crispy bacon, optional
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion, red pepper and carrot. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Add peas and cook until peas are heated through, 1 minute for frozen and 3-5 minutes for fresh. Add salt to taste. Purée in blender until smooth. Serve with croutons and crumbled bacon, if desired.
Per serving: 198 calories; 7 grams of fat; 2 grams of saturated fat; 5 grams of cholesterol; 7 grams of protein; 29 grams of carbohydrates; 13 grams of sugar; 7 grams of fiber; 1,355 milligrams of sodium; 49 milligrams of calcium.
— Adapted from “Vita-Mix Recipes for Better Living”