The sun is blazing. The sweat is dripping. The air feels as if it is sticking to your skin.
Hey, how about a nice big bowl of soup?
No, seriously. Soup is good food. Especially in the summer, when the soup is cold.
Summer soup is different from winter soup. Winter soup is heavy, substantial, serious. It sticks to your ribs. But summer soup is light, frivolous, festive. It cools you down from the inside out. And if it is the right soup, it can even be a little bit sweet and no one will complain.
If you are like me, when you think about cold summertime soups, your first thought is gazpacho.
(Actually, if you are exactly like me and you are thinking about cold summertime soups, your very first thought is of the episode of “All in the Family” in which Archie Bunker is served vichyssoise for the first time. He blows on a spoonful to cool it down, and when he puts it in his mouth he gets a surprised look on his face that is absolutely priceless. But more on vichyssoise later.)
Gazpacho, of course, is the (generally) tomato-based cold soup that originated in the Andalusia region of Spain. Everyone who makes it makes it differently, but the essentials are the same — ripe tomatoes, sherry vinegar whenever possible and a bit of bread that has been soaked in water and then squeezed for added texture, all pureed together.
That’s not the way I make it. I call my version Farmers Market Gazpacho because it is basically a vegetable soup that makes full use of the bounty of the season. Also, I don’t use bread. I usually serve it thin with plenty of nice chunks of veggies crammed into it. Occasionally I will puree it, but while it tastes delicious, it does leave you with a soup that is visually unappealing.
Two other bits of culinary apostasy: I begin with canned tomato juice. Why not? It’s good, it’s tomatoey. And I do add real tomatoes, so it isn’t as if I am entirely cheating, right?
The other thing I do is add chicken stock. It may not be traditional, and it definitely is not vegetarian, but it adds a certain depth missing in the Andalusian version.
Another thing I like to do in the summer is take cold-weather soups and, by virtue of chilling them, turn them into hot-weather soups. This is a simple trick, but it works remarkably well for a whole host of unlikely soups.
I have a grilled corn soup with leeks that I love to make in the fall, but it is (very nearly) just as good in the summer when it is served cold.
Now, about that vichyssoise that had Archie Bunker so confounded. It’s simple, it’s pure — it’s one of the all-time great French dishes that isn’t actually French.
That’s right. Vichyssoise (I just learned this, and I’m dying to share it) was invented in 1917 at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City. Chef Louis Diat liked to create a new hot-weather recipe every summer, and that year he thought about the leek-and-potato soup his mother used to serve when he was growing up in Bourbon-l’Archambault, about 40 miles from the town of Vichy. When she served leftover soup, she would thin it out with cream.
It is that idea, leek-and-potato soup mixed with cream and chilled, that is the essence of vichyssoise.
Because it was created in America, I decided to make a distinctly American version of it by adding corn to the potatoes and leeks or onions. This idea came from Jacques Pepin who, like Diat, is a French chef living in America. That makes it a French-American version of a French-American dish. And it is terrific.
And for a bit of sweetness, I went to a truly spectacular soup created by Emeril Lagasse, of all people. Say what you will about the man, but the culinaroscenti agree that he can flat-out cook.
Or in the case of his Summer Fruit Soup, not cook. Actually, a little bit of cooking is involved, just a few minutes to dissolve the sugar and bring the most out of the strawberries, the pineapple, the mango and the lemon, lime and orange peels.
It’s an abundance of fruit, plus sugar. It sounds too sweet — you could serve it for dessert, but I’d make it a light and refreshing appetizer. But the sweetness is cleverly balanced by a tablespoon of minced ginger, giving the soup just the bite it needs to keep it from being cloying.
Or, what the heck. Serve it last. If you’re having three chilled soups for dinner, you may as well have one last one for dessert.