Chilled Cream of Fire-Charred Tomato Soup with Basil Coulis

Cream of tomato soup is probably my favorite soup. I usually don’t make it much in the summer, which is a shame, because it is extra good with fresh home-grown tomatoes. I decided to see if I could turn a winter staple into a summer favorite.

Ingredients
7 to 8 large farm-fresh tomatoes
1/4 cup onions, coarsely chopped
1 to 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon rice or white wine vinegar
6 ounces plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne pepper

Method

* Heat a grill (gas or charcoal) to high. Using tongs and a paper towel dipped in cooking oil, grease the grates.
* Place the whole tomatoes directly on the grill. Rotate as the skin is charred. Once the skin starts to slip off, place in a bowl to cool. Note: This can be done a day in advance.
* After tomatoes have cooled, peel and core them. Be sure to catch and save any tomato juice.
* Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.
* Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
* Garnish with a hefty swirl of basil coulis.
Serves four.

Non-grill variation:
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Make an X with a knife on the bottom of each tomato and place in the boiling water for a few minutes. Remove and cool in iced water. The peels should easily slip off. Return to main recipe.

Basil Coulis

This delicious basil oil is something I plan to keep on hand all summer. It adds a nice splash of color and intense basil taste to any dish. Try it in soups, pasta, crostini, grilled chicken, grilled cheese — the sky’s the limit.

Ingredients
1 cup of fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Wash and dry the basil.
  • Place basil and oil in a blender and process until smooth. I use an immersion blender, but a regular one will do just fine.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Pour into a squeeze bottle, if you want to make fancy swirls. Store in the fridge; bring to room temperature before using. Keeps for a week.

Peach Gazpacho

I’m a big soup eater. I could eat it for lunch every day. It’s frugal, nutritious and the variations are endless. Of course, as the mercury rises, a steamy hot bowl of soup isn’t exactly what I want. Neither is heating up my kitchen with a bubbly pot of stew.

Cold soups to the rescue!

Gazpacho is probably the most ubiquitous cold soup. It is traditionally made with tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, garlic and stale bread. Yes, stale bread. It helps thicken the soup. It is often omitted in favor of a pure, summer vegetable based soup.

I adore a good bowl of gazpacho. As soon as I get my hands on farm-fresh tomatoes, I whip up a giant batch. While I’m enthusiastic about the first few bowls, by the fourth or fifth, I’m ready for something new.

Two things I am planning to do this summer. One, I’m scaling back on making such a giant batch of tomato gazpacho. There is no need to overdo a good thing. Two, I’m branching out to try other cold soups.

Peach Gazpacho

This tasty soup is a nice change from my usual tomato gazpacho. It is bright, healthy and delicious. Add a handful of tortilla chips for the perfect summer lunch.

I try to search out organic peaches. Pesticides easily migrate into the fruit through the soft skin of the peach. When I can’t find local, organic peaches, I buy local non-organic peaches. I prefer them to rock-hard organic peaches shipped from California. They just taste better. Ask your farmer about his/her pesticide practices. Since local peaches don’t have to travel far, farmers can often get by with using less pesticides.

Ingredients

8 peaches
1 medium-large cucumber, unpeeled, seeded if necessary
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup fresh lemon or lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish: Chopped tomatoes, avocado and fresh cilantro

Method

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Make an X with a knife on the bottom of each peach.
  • Drop the peaches into the boiling water for a few minutes. Remove and cool in iced water. The peels should easily slip off. If not, use a knife to peel them.
  • Add the peaches and cucumber to a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer to a large bowl. Be sure to include the liquid.
  • Add onion, garlic, lemon or lime juice and mix well. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving.
  • Garnish with fresh chopped tomatoes, chopped or sliced avocado and chopped fresh cilantro.

Serves four.

Summer Lettuce Soups

lettuce soupMy husband and I, woefully, have a very shaded backyard. Nothing but hostas and the occasional mushroom grow there. Fortunately, we have been able to dig into two community gardens. We have a small plot in the Catskill Community Garden and we share another garden with friends in Athens.

Lettuce has always done well in our Athens plot. This year was no exception. I feel a bit disrespectful to the prolific plants, but I’m getting a little tired of eating salad. We pick and pick and there is still more. Plus, it’s all starting to bolt. That in garden speak means it’s about to go to seed. We need to eat it all before it does. I know, it’s hard to hear someone whine about having too many garden-fresh greens, but if you’re like me, you might be trying to think of ways to use your bumper crop.

This year we planted mache, also known as corn salad or lamb’s lettuce. I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it. One of the garden friends, David, learned the proper pronunciation when he was in a restaurant in Paris and he saw mache soup on the menu. He asked what mache soup was. The waiter, with just the right amount of distain that one would hope for in a Parisian waiter, corrected David’s pronunciation and quipped that an American just wouldn’t understand, but it was a type of lettuce.

I learned two things. One, how to correctly pronounce mache (it rhymes with “posh”) and two, you can make soup from lettuce. The waiter was probably right. I dare say, most Americans’ reaction might be, “Lettuce soup?!” said, perhaps, with a bit of disgust. We like our lettuce crisp.

If you can set aside any preconceived notions about lettuce, a whole new culinary world opens up. You can toss it in a stir-fry, throw it on the grill and yes, make lettuce soup. Lettuce soup is delicious, healthy and frugal. The beauty of this soup is that it works fine with lettuce that’s a little past its prime. I’m not suggesting that you use rotting lettuce, but the wilting lettuce that you bought at the farmers market last weekend might be the perfect candidate.

I tried two versions, a cold uncooked one and a cooked version, which was delicious both hot and chilled. The cold version was a delightfully bright-green color. The cooked version was not. The combo of the potatoes and balsamic vinegar darken the color considerably. My preference is for the uncooked version. It is a nice, bright, refreshingly tangy soup. It was a little too tart for my husband. He loved the rich, cooked version. My favorite self-serve farm stand has bags of lettuce for a buck each, so it won’t break the bank to try both!

Lettuce can often collect dirt, especially if you are picking it fresh after a hard night’s rain. There is a trick to washing greens. First trim off the roots and separate the leaves and rinse. Place leaves in a large bowl of water and swish them around a bit. It’s important to lift the lettuce out of the water since the dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl. You may need to repeat this a couple of times.

Tangy Lettuce Soup
If you love things on the tart side, use two tablespoons of lemon juice. Use any type of lettuce. Try adding a few herbs, like basil, mint or parsley to get a more complex flavor.

Ingredients
5-6 cups lettuce, torn into small pieces
1/3 cup onions chopped
2 cups plain yogurt
1/3 cup water
1-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • Place all ingredients in a blender and process until smooth. Add more water if the soup it too thick. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Refrigerate a few hours before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Garnish with thin slices of radish or carrot. Serves 4 as a first course.


Potato Lettuce Soup

I like to make this with peppery arugula.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
5 cups of water or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5-6 cups of lettuce, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Plain yogurt for garnish (optional)

Method

  • In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat until hot. Add onions and sauté until onions become translucent.
  • Add potatoes and garlic and sauté for couple of minutes, stirring often. Be careful not to let the garlic brown.
  • Add water, salt and pepper. Simmer for ten minutes
  • Add lettuce and simmer until the potatoes are soft. Add vinegar and adjust seasoning.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree soup. You can also use a traditional blender. Let the soup cool a bit before transferring it to the blender. Be sure to keep a towel and your hand firmly on the blender lid. Hot soup has a tendency to spew. Serve warm or chilled with a dollop of plain yogurt.

Serves 4 as a first course.

Asparagus and Leek Soup

Ingredients
2 cups finely chopped leeks, washed well (leeks can hide dirt between layers)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups asparagus (about 1 pound), cut into small pieces
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup of water
2/3 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
Dash of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Method

  • In a saucepan add asparagus, leeks, garlic and butter. Sauté over medium heat for about five minutes.
  • Add stock and water, simmer covered, for 15 minutes, or until the asparagus is very tender.
  • Purée the soup in a blender until it is very smooth. Note, be very careful when blending hot liquid. Always start blending slowly and hold the blender lid on with dishtowel.
  • Return the soup to the pan, and whisk in the yogurt and lemon juice.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Cook over medium to low heat until it is heated (don’t let it boil).

Serves 4

African Peanut Stew

Some cooks like to test their recipes before serving them to guests. I see guests as excellent guinea pigs; they get to experience my good meals and my bad ones. I like to think it gives my husband someone to commiserate with when they don’t turn out so well.

The other night, we invited our neighbor John over for African Peanut Stew. This is a recipe that I cut out of the Washington Post probably 10 years ago. I’ve made it many times and have modified the original recipe to suit my taste. It is a delicious, interesting, one-dish meal; warm, filling and healthy. It is perfect for these cold winter evenings. No problems there.

What I had never made is Ugali. Ugali is a cornmeal dish that is supposed to be like a soft bread and is often served with African dishes. It is served in the middle of the table; diners pull off bits, roll it into a ball, smash it with their thumb and then use the dough to scoop up the stew. Mine came out like over-cooked grits. After we all, good-naturedly but unsuccessfully, tried to grab a piece (imagine eating oatmeal with your fingers), I added a serving spoon. We improvised and ate it like dumplings in the stew. We did eat just about all of it, but I won’t count it as a success. At least it tasted good!

As I was making the stew, I was struck by all the healthy stuff I was adding to it — sweet potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, turmeric, garlic, pumpkin seeds, etc. I wanted to find out just how healthy the dish was so I turned to NutritionData.com This cool site analyzes the nutritional value of your recipes. You search for your ingredients, select the amount and add it to your recipes. It’s a bit time consuming but, when you’re done, you have an in-depth dietary profile of your recipe. You can also print out a nifty nutrition label just like the ones on packaged foods. I was so proud of the nutritional prowess of this dish that I was tempted to print out a label and slap it on the side of the bowl.

Here’s the abridged lowdown:
Calories: 401; Vitamin A: 308% RDA (Wow!); Vitamin C: 51% RDA; Vitamin E: 22% RDA; Vitamin K: 231% RDA; Vitamin B6: 26% RDA; Folate: 31% RDA; Protein: 30% RDA; Calcium: 11% RDA; Iron: 32% RDA; Magnesium: 50% RDA; Potassium: 28% RDA. Not too shabby.

The peanut butter pushes the fat content to 40% RDA, but I don’t fret about that. The only fats that I try to totally avoid are trans fats. Just be sure that you are buying all-natural peanut butter with no partially hydrogenated oils. The only ingredient in your peanut butter should be peanuts (and maybe salt). Some peanut butter makers add partially hydrogenated oils to keep the peanut butter from separating. I’d much rather stir my peanut butter than ingest trans fats!

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 (10-ounce) bag spinach, washed (you may substitute kale or other greens)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups diced tomatoes (or about 2 cans or one 26 ounce box)
4 cups vegetable stock (or water)
1 cup natural peanut butter
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
1 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped


Method

  • Heat oil in a large soup pan or Dutch oven over medium heat.
  • Add onions and chopped sweet potatoes.
  • Finely chop the spinach (I give mine a whirl or two in a food processor) and add to pot, sauté until the onions are soft.
  • Add garlic, ginger, turmeric, salt and cayenne pepper, sauté for about a minute (do not brown garlic).
  • Add tomatoes and vegetable stock; bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender.
  • Add peanut butter; stir to combine.
  • Add vinegar, honey, pumpkin seeds and cilantro. Cook a few more minutes until thoroughly heated.
  • Season with salt and pepper.

Serves eight.

This post appears on Real Food Wednesdays.

Bouillabaisse

boulaTraditionally, bouillabaisse was considered an everyday meal, not the fancy dish it has become. This simple Provencal fisherman’s stew was made with whatever the catch of the day was. The first time I had bouillabaisse was at a restaurant in Maine with my friend Todd. While the mound of seafood piled in the bowl was impressive, it was the broth with which I was enamored.

The backbone of a bouillabaisse is the stock, so use a good one. I make my own fish stock. I once left a dinner party quite happily with the fish heads from the night’s meal. (If you are shy, it helps to know the host well when asking to take home the table scraps.) Anytime I have leftover fish parts, shrimp shells or, if I’m particularly lucky, lobster shells, I place them in a pot of water, let simmer for about an hour, strain and either use it right away or let the stock cool and freeze it.

Saffron is another essential ingredient of bouillabaisse. Unfortunately, saffron, which is cultivated from the stigmas of crocuses, is one of world’s most expensive spices. Luckily, a little goes a long way. Anise or fennel adds to the complexity of the broth as well.

For me, after the broth, the best part of bouillabaisse is the rouille. Rouille is garlicky, spicy and delicious. It is spread on nice, crunchy French baguette slices and traditionally served with bouillabaisse. The baguette slices are often floated in the stew.

Health wise, this dish is isn’t too shabby. It has fish, so you’ll get a dose of omega-3 fatty acids, and the tomatoes are loaded with of vitamin C and lycopene. Plus, I believe the six cloves of garlic, and the garlic in the rouille, help ward off vampires … I mean colds.

Fish is one of those things that we hear we should add to our diets. We also hear that some types of fish are full of mercury and other seafood is in danger of being over fished. It’s hard to keep track of all of it. To the rescue comes the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their nifty pocket guide to sustainable seafood. I downloaded and printed the one for the Northeast region. And yes, I have been known to whip out the credit-card-sized guide at the seafood counter in Price Chopper.

Shelling out for a bunch of seafood plus the saffron can put a strain on your wallet, so I often make ours with just fish (but I always use saffron). Like I said, it’s the broth that makes me happy, the rest is just window dressing.

Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek (cleaned thoroughly and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Additional onion may be substituted)
1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced (additional teaspoon of fennel seeds may be substituted)
1 medium celery stalk, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons anise seeds or fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup dry white wine
4 cups chopped tomatoes with juice (canned or fresh)
6 cups fish, seafood or lobster stock
1/4 cup Pernod (or any anise flavored liquor)
2 to 3 pounds assorted seafood (use any combination of any or all listed): Littleneck or other small clams, well scrubbed; white-fleshed fish, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces; sea scallops; lobster; mussels; shrimp.

Method

  • Heat butter and olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat until the butter is melted.
  • Add leaks, onion, fennel bulb and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
  • Add bay leaf, anise seeds or fennel seeds, saffron, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
  • Add tomato paste and white wine. Cook, stirring, for about a minute.
  • Stir in chopped tomatoes.
  • Add fish stock.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. The bouillabaisse broth can be made a day in advance; in fact, I think it is better the next day.
  • Add Pernod.
  • Bring to a gentle boil again and add seafood. Cook for five to seven minutes or until seafood is done. Discard any clams or mussels that do not open.

Serve with rouille on French bread.
Serves six.

Curried Pumpkin Soup

curriedpumpsoupIf you already have your pumpkin cooked, this soup can be ready in about the time it takes to boil a pot of water.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 cups of water
2 cups of pumpkin, puréed
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger root
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup cream (or milk)

Roasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

Method:

  • Sauté garlic in butter (or oil) in a soup pot over medium heat for a few minutes. Be careful not to let the garlic brown.
  • Add everything else except the cream (or milk). Bring to a boil. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Turn heat down, add cream (or milk).
  • Top with roasted pumpkin seeds and serve warm.

Serves four.

About Pumpkins

boopumpkinOne of my favorite fall sights is a sprawling pumpkin patch. They always take me by surprise. Amid the waning crop fields spring large bright orange orbs. It never fails to make me smile.

I like fresh pumpkin better than canned for several reasons. One, I like to buy things from my local farmers. Two, it’s one less can that needs to be recycled. Three, it tastes better. Plus, today’s centerpiece is tomorrow’s pie. You can’t say that about canned pumpkin.

It does take a little time to cook a pumpkin, but it isn’t difficult. I like to roast a couple small pumpkins at the same time, make a puree and then freeze what I don’t use right away. That way, I get the benefits of fresh pumpkin with the convenience of canned.

Like its winter squash siblings, pumpkins are an excellent source of vitamin A (as beta-carotene) and a good source of a slew of other nutrients, including vitamin E, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, riboflavin, potassium, copper and manganese.

For display and carving, I tend to go for the big, ugly pumpkins with lots of warts. They make for interesting jack-o-lanterns. For eating, I pick the smaller ones with smooth skin. If you are baking a pie, ask your farmer what his/her sweetest pumpkins are.

Next up…how to cook a pumpkin whole

Butternut Apple Soup with Gorgonzola and Bacon

This combines two of my favorite fall things — butternut squash and apples — with two of my all-year-round favorites — blue cheese and bacon.

Ingredients:

1 large butternut squash
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 medium to large tart apple, chopped
2 tablespoons of olive oil or butter
4 cups of water
2 cups of apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt
Dash of cayenne and black pepper
2 to 3 slices of cooked bacon, crumbled
1/4 to 1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (or any blue cheese)

Method:

  • Cut squash in half (stem to bottom) and scoop out seeds and stringy pulp (save the seeds for roasting). Peel and cut into chunks.
  • Heat olive oil or butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until onion turns translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir often to keep garlic from browning.
  • Add butternut squash and chopped apple. I don’t peal the apple.
  • Stir in water, apple cider, vinegar and season with salt and pepper.
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until squash is fork-tender, about 30 minutes.
  • Use an immersion blender to puree soup. You can also use a traditional blender and puree the soup in batches. Let the soup cool a bit and be sure to keep a towel and your hand firmly on the blender lid. The hot soup has a tendency to spew. If soup is too thick, thin with water or apple cider.

Top soup with a sprinkle of bacon and Gorgonzola and serve hot.

Serves four to six.