Nancy Krcerk Allen

Nancy Krcek Allen

Mothers everywhere have admonished their children not to play with their food. It is stuck in our minds as the height of rudeness to trifle with peas and mashed potatoes or use a hard-cooked egg as a missile. If you make a cold summer soup like gazpacho, the quintessential Spanish summer soup, you’ll have to drop your fear, defy your mother and frolic with your food.

Mash some tomatoes, tear the bread, crush garlic and let it fly — in a blender. Chill the result. Season it with salt, pepper, vinegar and olive oil and you’ll have a simple summer soup with flavor so rich that you might inspire converts. Drop a few vodka-laced ice cubes into it, then serve it to your mother.

Spanish cooks aren’t the only ones having fun preparing cold soup. Northern European cooks have devised chilled fruit soups, most notably, chilled cherry. Vichyssoise (chilled, puréed potato leek soup) is the result of French chef Louis Diat (who was born near Vichy) playing around with his mother’s recipe for hot potato leek soup. Daring Eastern Europeans prepare chlodnik, a cold version of purple-hued borscht dotted with sour cream and fresh dill for the dog days of August.

Can you resist the long tradition of soup anarchists? Kick up your heels and join in. Instead of overheating your summer kitchen pull out your long-neglected blender. It can become your chilled soup’s best friend. It’s easy to produce puréed soups from cooked or raw vegetables. Cooked, starchy vegetable-based soups or those thickened with fresh or dry breadcrumbs stiffen upon standing so you might need to add more liquid.

A blender or food processor makes the finest purée but an immersion blender prepares purée soups fast and saves on cleanup. You can simmer all the ingredients together until tender, cool and purée them in the same pot. Otherwise, strain out the vegetables and purée in a blender with a small amount of liquid, scrape the purée into a clean pot with the reserved cooking liquid to achieve the consistency you desire.

If you need a bit of coaching, take a hint from Vichyssoise or gazpacho. Vichyssoise’s main ingredients are cooked, cooled, puréed, seasoned and garnished. Gazpacho’s raw ingredients grace your everyday salads: tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, garlic, herbs, bread, olive oil and vinegar. Gazpacho is nothing more than a salad pleasurably diced, pummeled or puréed to a soupy pulp. In soups like gazpacho, the flavor improves, softens, marries and mellows upon standing. As in making chilli or tomato sauce—chilled overnight is ideal, but even a couple hours at room temperature will make a difference.

Think of summer soups as capturing the fragrance of summer bounty. Use in them what comes your way: romaine, cauliflower, corn, summer squash, olives, toasted almonds, grapes, plums, raspberries, cucumbers, eggplant and blueberries. You may have to lightly steam the cauliflower, sauté the summer squash or grill the eggplant before it becomes soup—but don’t let that stop your fun.

Gazpacho Andaluz

This is a dish best made with seasonal ripe tomatoes. Use a can of V-8 juice to boost flavor if winter tomatoes are all that’s available. Gazpacho may be served warm or hot.

Adapted from “Discovering Global Cuisines” by Nancy Krcek Allen

Yields 10 cups, 8 to 10 servings

1-1/4 C. cubed and toasted white artisan or country-style bread

2-1/2 lb. summer-ripe tomatoes, 4 cups peeled, seeded and diced plus 1 cup juice

1-1/2 t. minced garlic

1-1/2 C. peeled, seeded, and diced English cucumber

3/4 C. seeded and diced red, yellow or green bell pepper

2 to 3 T. sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar

1/4 C. extra virgin olive oil, more as needed

Torn basil leaves or mint or marjoram leaves

Garnishes:

1-1/4 C. toasted country bread cubes

1 C. finely dicedred, yellow or green bell pepper

1/4 C. finely diced Serrano ham or prosciutto, 2 ounces

2 large hard-cooked eggs, finely diced

Toast bread in oven: Though it’s not traditional, toasting gives the soup richer flavor. Spread bread cubes on sheet pan and place in preheated 375 degree F oven until golden. Soak bread in 2 cups cold water until soft, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain bread, set aside, and reserve water.

Peel and seed tomatoes: Save seeds and juice and pass through strainer; reserve juice. Add the juice before adding water to the soup as it is puréed.

Purée ingredients: Place soaked bread and garlic into food processor, and pulse-purée until evenly chopped. Add tomatoes, cucumber, and bell pepper. For chunky soup, pulse-purée vegetables until soupy but with texture. For smooth soup purée ingredients until smooth.

Adjust soup consistency: Slowly pour strained tomato juice, half the vinegar, salt and part of the bread-soaking-water to achieve flavor and consistency desired—a thick soup. With machine running, slowly pour in oil or whisk oil in by hand. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt, and black pepper, if desired.

Stir chosen herbs into soup.Chill soup 1 to 4 hours or in winter heat it gently, don’t boil. Taste and adjust salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar.Place garnishes and croutons in separate bowls and set on the table.Ladle soup into bowls. Instruct diners to garnish at the table. Drizzle soup with an excellent olive oil, if desired.

Cucumber Mint Vodka Ice Cubes

Liquor will not freeze so it must be diluted.

Yields 6 liquid ounces, 3/4 cup

1 part vodka (1 liquid ounce)

5 parts fresh lime, cucumber or tomato juice or a mixture (5 liquid ounces)

4 fresh mint leaves or other favorite herbs like basil, Italian parsley or cilantro

Fresh cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely cubed

Toss herb leaves in a glass with some vodka and muddle. Strain vodka into juice. Stir to combine. Place cucumber dice into ice cube molds and gently pour vodka mixture into the mold. Freeze overnight.

Delia Smith’s Chilled Fennel Gazpacho

Any of these soups can be used as a template for your next kitchen bounty. Perhaps you could substitute corn and small, slim zucchini for the fennel.

Serves 4

1-1/2 lb. skinned tomatoes

1 large bulb fennel

1 t. Kosher salt

3/4 t. coriander seeds

2 to 4 T. extra virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

1 large clove garlic, crushed

1 T. balsamic vinegar

1 T. fresh lemon juice

3/4 t. fresh oregano or marjoram leaves

1 t. tomato paste

Garnish: sliced olives and croutons

To skin tomatoes first core them then either pour boiling water over them or plunge them into boiling water for 30 seconds to one minute. Slip off their skins. Chop the tomatoes.

Trim away the green fronds from the fennel. Cut the bulb across the bottom then stand it on this flat bottom. Slice fennel bulb in half so that you have two wide, flat pieces. Lay each on their flat side and slice into thin slices. Place them into a saucepan with salt and two cups water. Bring them to a boil, cover and simmer 10 minutes.

Crush coriander seeds with the flat of a knife or in a mortar with pestle. Heat oil and cook spices and onion until onion is soft. Add garlic and cook another couple minutes. Add balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, tomatoes, oregano, fennel and its cooking water and tomato paste. Simmer everything gently 30 minutes. Cool and purée in a food processor or blender. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.For a finer soup, press purée through a sieve. Chill. Serve garnished with sliced olives and croutons.

James Beard’s Cherry Soup

If this soup isn’t tart enough, stir in fresh lemon juice to taste.

Serves 6

2 lb. pitted red tart cherries

2 C. good red wine, port or sherry

2-inch cinnamon stick or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cloves

1/4 t. salt

1-3/4 C. water

Sugar or honey to taste

1 T. cornstarch or arrowroot

Garnish: fresh pitted cherries

Pour cherries, wine, spices and salt into a saucepan. Bring them to a boil, lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Cool. Remove cinnamon stick and cloves. Pour cherry mixture into a blender or food processor in batches and purée until smooth. Scrape cherry purée into a clean saucepan and stir in water and sweetener to taste.

To thicken the soup: Mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch or arrowroot with 4 tablespoons cold water. Stir it into the soup, bring the soup to a boil, lower heat and simmer soup until it thickens and clears. Chill soup. Serve garnished with fresh cherries.

Chilled Potato Leek Soup (Vichyssoise)

Potatoes and leeks are a brilliant combo. Vichyssoise is an American take on French potato-leek soup or Potage Parmentier.

Yields 6 cups, 4 to 6 servings

1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, 4 cups peeled and diced

1-1/4 lb. leeks, washed, 3 cups finely sliced white and tender green

4 C. chicken broth or stock

1-1/2 t. salt

1 C. heavy cream

Garnish: 2 tablespoons minced chives or dill

Combine potatoes, leeks, stock plus salt into large saucepan. Bring to a boil and lower heat. Simmer soup until potatoes fall apart, about 20 minutes. Cool soup; stir in cream.

Purée cooled soup with immersion blender or in small batches in blender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. You may strain soup through a fine strainer for a smoother texture. Chill soup well. If soup becomes too thick, thin with cold water to the consistency of heavy cream and re-season to taste. To serve, ladle cold soup into bowls. Garnish each with chives or dill.

Nancy Krcek Allen has been a chef-educator for more than 25 years and has taught professional and recreational classes in California, New York City and Michigan. Her culinary textbook is called “Discovering Global Cuisines.”

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