While we’re at it…

Let’s talk about summer soups.  Love them?  Loathe them?  Do you prefer cold and icy, like gazpacho, or do you think hot soup is the only way to slurp?  I’m torn, really: I love hot soup, and considering I put the a/c on during the summer, there’s no reason not to eat something hot.

Since tomatoes have a week or so until they reach their summer prime (gazpacho is out for now), lately my mind has been on corn.   We’ve had our fair share of corn on the cob, tossed in garlic and basil brown-butter, or saffron infused French butter, or plain with lots of sea salt and pepper.  Corn eaten off the cob (with dental floss nearby for afterward) is the ultimate summer side; it’s always messy, and wet, and fun (especially for me, since I spent years and years of my childhood in braces, corn on the cob-less).  But corn on the cob every night, no matter how much you change up the condiments, can get tedious.

So, when I was jolted back into soup-mode with zucchini basil soup last week, I got a hankering for corn soup.  Corn soup, in my experience, has always been heavy, made with cream, or whole milk—more creamed corn than corn soup.  But, like I mentioned last post, I’m in teeny bikini mode right now, with another visit out to the Hamptons very soon, and heavy cream is a definite no-go.

I opted for a simplistic version, the corn purist’s corn soup.  A dozen ears of corn go into it with a few cups of water and some salt.  Easy-peasy.  Except that cutting corn off the kernel takes some time, not to mention the husking (the annoying price you pay for fresh corn), but if you give yourself a quarter hour or so to prep, it’s no problem.  Unless your immersion blender breaks: looks as if it’s working, sounds as if it’s working, with the blade spinning around like it could lob off a steel-plated thumb, but it isn’t freaking working, not blending a damn thing, and you haven’t used a stand blender to blend soup in years and you hardly know how it works, and you picked today of all days to have not one but two pots of soup on the stove-top that need to be pureed because wouldn’t it be stress-relieving to have enough soup to last through the weekend; and you fill up the blender halfway with hot-hot corn and press puree and it promptly spits boiling liquid all over your arms and face and the ceiling and you thank the gods that you bought yourself a proper apron last week and that you didn’t choose to cook in that teeny bikini of yours and your eyes start to water and your chin crinkles up and you feel yourself start to cry, but you stop. Because Jim isn’t home and crying over your boo-boos isn’t the same when your muscle-bound fiance’s not there to wipe your tears.

Unless that happens, you should be alright.  Just make sure you put a towel over the cover of the blender and you hold it down like your life depends on it as you press the purée button.  If you’re not a stickler, you could get away with straining the blended soup once through a medium sieve, though I ran it through a food mill and then a sieve, pressing the solids dry as it passed through the sieve with the rounded back of a ladle.

On first bite, this soup makes a statement: I am corn! Corn it is, purely, like corn on the cob intensified, with no starchiness, or skins stuck in your teeth.  It’s almost too much, a bowlful of pure corn flavor just may be too, uhh… corny.  To cut the flavor, I added a flurry of freshly ground black pepper and a hefty snipping of chives.  The result, with the oniony bite and peppery kick, is perfection. I hope you get a chance to make it this weekend, before the perfect tomatoes take over, when corn is still king.

Fresh Corn Soup

adapted from Gourmet Magazine

  • corn kernels cut from 12 ears of corn
  • 5 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • handful of fresh chives
  • freshly ground black pepper

Simmer corn with salt in the water, covered, 20 minutes, or until very tender.

Purée soup in batches in a blender until very smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). As each batch is puréed, pour through a coarse sieve, pressing on solids, into a saucepan.  (Or you can pass it through a food mill, then a sieve, or through a sieve more than once, to get a flawlessy smooth soup.)

Reheat soup, stirring. If soup is too thick, thin with water.

With scissors, snip a good amount of chives into each bowl, and sprinkle with black pepper to taste.

Zucchini basil soup.

So, what have you all been doing with your zucchini lately?  Baked goods? Fritters? Maybe grilled, or roasted, or raw?  It seems there’s so much zucchini come mid-July that I quickly exhaust all my zucchini recipes by August.  After a few weeks of summer, I could go a year at least without setting my eyes on the squash.  But not this year.  This zucchini basil soup will keep zucchini in my kitchen as long as the farmers are growin’ it.

It’s fresh, creamy, with a soft but certain hit of basil.  The zucchini acts as the base (and the texture if you add julienned strips of zucchini skin) but the basil’s the star; which is a good thing, as basil here in Western NJ has been on this summer.

It seems that every farm market in town is flush with basil—spicy, sweet, verdant basil—and one market is selling theirs for 99¢ a pound, damn-near giving it away.  I just hope that everyone has the good sense to make soup.

The soup is quick to make, but plan a bit of time for your julienned zucchini skins to wilt once you set them aside in a sprinkling of salt, so that later when you have them in the soup they’ve got a good texture, and won’t turn to mush.  It would also help to have a handyman like Howard.

While being quick to make is a plus, man if I wouldn’t cook all day for this soup.  Once you sit down to a bowl, you’ll understand.  It’s immediately delicious, fresh and vegetal, creamy without any cream, and then there’s a long finish that’s full of basil and a touch of salt, a taste that clings to your tongue and reminds you of sweet grass, and garden herbs, and summer.

And I’m sure your heard me, I said creamy without any cream.  Without cream, or butter, and with a piddlin’ ¼ cup of olive oil, this decadent soup is healthy undercover.  A big added bonus for the season of bathing suits and short shorts, since hamburgers and coleslaw seem to have forgotten that I’m trying to fit back into my bikini.

Zucchini Basil Soup

serves 3-4, from Gourmet, July 2008

  • 2 pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut crosswise into thirds
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cups water, divided
  • 1/3 cup packed basil leaves

Julienne skin (only) from half of zucchini with slicer; toss with 1/2 teaspoon salt and drain in a sieve until wilted, at least 20 minutes. Coarsely chop remaining zucchini.

Cook onion and garlic in oil in a 3- to 4-quarts heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add chopped zucchini and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water and simmer, partially covered, until tender, about 15 minutes. Purée soup with basil in 2 batches in a blender (use caution when blending hot liquids).

Bring remaining cup water to a boil in a small saucepan and blanch julienned zucchini 1 minute. Drain in a sieve set over a bowl (use liquid to thin soup if necessary).

Season soup with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls with julienned zucchini mounded on top.

Bacon-wrapped Yellowtail

Sorry for the radio silence; Jim and I went on a road trip last week.  I figured I could slip away, under the cover of fireworks.  We set off on the fourth of July and made our way to Lexington, NC for barbecue, then Savannah, GA for fried chicken, Florida for the ocean (and, more importantly, my grandparents), then back to Savannah.  We listened to the audio version of the Iliad along the way, which made our adventure down the east coast seem all the more glorious.  But that’s all I’m going to tell you for now; we’re letting the trip digest a bit before posting.

I did prepare something for you, though.  The night before we left we snuck over, again, to Jim’s parents’ empty house to grill, this time bacon-wrapped, herb-stuffed yellowtail snapper.  By chance, we bought a way-too-big-for-the-two-of-us fish, because it looked so pristine and delicious—a good thing, because we were ready when Jim’s parents came home early from their vacation, surprising us (and themselves) in the kitchen!  It became an impromtu welcome home/bon voyage party, with fish, avocado and tomato salad, grilled zucchini, and bread and butter.

The fish is one we’ve done many times, for good reason.  You take a whole fish, yellowtail for instance, though red snapper, bronzino, and many others work as well, and stuff it with whatever fresh herbs you can get your hands on (I like to use a mix of many herbs, so that no one stands out too much) and thin slices of lemon.  Then, and this is the good part, you salt and pepper and wrap it in bacon, from the head to the tail, and throw it on a hot grill.

It only takes a few minutes to cook the fish and crisp the bacon.  We like for it to blacken on the top and bottom; sprinkled with a touch of lemon juice, the charred bacon crumbles over the fish flesh as you eat and it’s fresh and savory and ahh, well, it’s just what it sounds like. Also, we could feed four people with a fish just over 2 pounds (that’s counting the weight of the carcass), because a little goes a long way here—a welcome thing for impromptu dinner parties.

Bacon-wrapped Yellowtail

serves 4

  • 1 (2.5 pound) whole yellowtail snapper, have the fishmonger clean and remove fins for you
  • salt, pepper
  • handful of mixed herbs, parsley, dill, thyme are good ones
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • about 6-8 slices good bacon
  • lemon wedges, for serving

Turn the grill on high.  Check that the fish has been scaled fully, and remove any stray scales.  Salt and pepper the inside cavity of the fish and fill with herbs and lemon slices.  Salt and pepper the outside of the fish and then wrap in bacon, overlapping each slice with other slices (to ensure that everything stays put).  Grill 7 minutes on each side, or until the fish is opaque and tender and the bacon is crisp and beginning to blacken.  Fillet and serve with lemon wedges.