Summer veggies blend into cool soups


A cool bowl of summer soup is the perfect way to beat the heat. It can start the proceedings or be enjoyed as a complete meal in itself.

Garden-ripened vegetables are at their peak, and wonderful pureed into a base for soup. Their textures make a crunchy symphony.

Start with the base, which gives the predominant flavor of the soup. The best vegetables are generally milder ones, such as tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, zucchini or even carrots. These vegetables are pureed until smooth, then strained to remove any lumps or chunks of skin. In selecting them, think what would taste best as a juice. These vegetables also may be blanched or slightly cooked to more fully develop their flavor before pureeing, then chilled before garnishes are added to finish the soup.

Garnish vegetables build the complexity of the soup's personality as well as offer a contrasting crunch and flavor. Green onions, chives, corn, hot chilies and herbs will nicely complement your soup.

Wash the vegetables well under cold, running water, using a soft brush to gently scrub their skins. Cut the vegetables into large pieces, free of stems and seeds. Place in the blender or juicer in a combination of harder and softer vegetables and puree in batches. Transfer to an acid-resistant pot or large bowl. Repeat until all base vegetables are pureed.

Sweet peppers, corn and even tomatoes can be blanched or roastedfirst. Cut as above and puree.

Cut the garnish vegetables into small dice about 1/4 -inch for best results. Large chunks are not very delectable. Add the garnishes to the cold soup.

Raw and slightly cooked vegetables can be pretty bland. They come to life with a good shot of acid, such as lime or lemon juice.

For more flavor and depth, try sherry vinegar or seasoned vinegar. Worcestershire, soy, Tabasco and other hot sauces can bring additional complexity to the soup.

Fresh spices, such as garlic, ginger and chilies, add spunk. Above all, don't forget a good -- of salt. For the strong of heart, a shot of sherry or madeira will heighten the flavors.

Let the soup sit overnight in the refrigerator for the flavors to fully develop. When you taste for seasonings, you will find the vegetables have absorbed them, so give the soup another dose to make it bright and full bodied.

Include some of the garnish vegetables into the base of the soup to get a more rounded, complex flavor.

Summer Gazpacho

Serves 8

10 medium vine-ripened tomatoes (make sure they are very ripe and juicy and have never been refrigerated)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 medium Vidalia onion, peeled, ends removed, diced

2 garlic cloves, peeled, ends removed, finely minced

2 red bell peppers, washed, cored, seeded and diced, divided

2 small zucchini, washed, ends removed, diced, divided

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/2 cup lime juice (or more as necessary)

2 tablespoons finely grated lime rind

Tabasco or hot sauce to taste

1/4 cup green onion, washed, ends removed, diced white part only

1/4 cup blanched sweet corn, cut from the cob

1/2 cup fresh sweet basil, cut into fine julienne

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, optional

2 cups tomato juice

8 sprigs fresh basil for garnish

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Place cut side up on a sheet pan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on the lower rack of the oven and roast until shriveled and condensed, about 1 1/2 hours. Remove from oven and cool.

In a blender, combine roasted tomatoes, onion, garlic. Add half the red pepper and zucchini. Puree until smooth. Add Worcestershire, lime juice and rind. Season with salt and Tabasco to your taste. Add remaining red pepper and zucchini, green onion, corn, basil and olive oil. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, season again with salt, Tabasco and lime juice as necessary. Adjust consistency as necessary as soup will thicken under refrigeration. Serve in a chilled bowl with an ice cube and a sprig of fresh basil floated on top.

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