Thursday, August 5, 2010

Not So Hot

Aaahhh. The cool front came through in the night. Lovely. Temps in the 60s this morning. I hit the garden for an hour of watering, weeding, and slug control,! Give me the cool & dry anytime. The dogs were absolutely exultant. Happy dog dances, Lily running laps around our tiny Saint Paul yard, Annabel bumping up against my leg, saying, "So are we going hunting, huh? Are we, huh? Are we, can we, huh?" Well, not quite yet, that's a ways off still, and we're not out of the woods yet, swelter-wise.

Last night we were sweltering, indeed, a desperate time calling for desperate measures, to wit: cold soup for supper. But what a soup. I have to tell you, I am inordinately pleased with how this one came out. Context has something to do with it, and this is definitely a dish for a time and place, a hot summer night, dinner on the screen porch or a shady patio. Do not eat this in an air-conditioned room. You need the contrast between soup and surroudings the get the most from it.

I initially saw this as a starter soup to be followed by a more substantial main course, but it wound up being the main event for us. The beauty of the DIY garnishes is that you can make your own portion as chunky--or not--as you please. As we reached the end of our meal, I noticed that my plate looked like the dregs of an overdressed salad, while Mary's was distinctly soupy. Chacun(e) à son gout!

We sated ourselves après-soup with a slice of levain cracked wheat toast, an apple, and some
Marieke gouda. Uncorked a bottle of cold white côtes de gascogne, Domaine d'Arton (less than ten bucks), and I have to tell you, my friends, all things considered, this was about as close to a perfect meal as I can imagine. We eat pretty well around here, you've probably noticed, and sometimes I wonder if I'm becoming a little jaded--but this dinner was so freakin' happy-making, it made me realize anew just how happy-making food can be, and it doesn't have to be anything fancy, just good local stuff of the season prepared with care, presented in its proper context. Voilà: Happy meal, our way.

Right, then, a recipe. No cooking involved. The set-up:

Buttermilk Apple & Cucumber Gazpacho
serves two as a main course, four to six as a starter

1 large Asian or English cucumber, or 2 small, thin-skinned slicing cukes
1 apple (I had some of the first gnarly little ones from our land, that's why there are four in the picture; I figure that's about one regular apple)
1 shallot
1 large clove garlic
2 yellow romas tomatoes, or 1 larger yellow or a ripe green tomato like a Green Zebra
1 flavorful red tomato, peeled, seeded, chopped--for garnish
croutons of good, grainy levain bread (mine were from a cracked wheat loaf, just toasted in a skillet with a little butter and olive oil until nicely browned)
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup heavy cream
a few sprigs each of chervil and mint
1/2 cup watermelon small dice, optional
lemon juice

In a food processor combine: 1/2 cup water, half the cucumber, half the apple, the shallot, the peeled garlic clove, the yellow or green tomatoes, 1/4 tsp salt (roughly chop all for easier blending; no need to seed apple or cuke). Process for about a minute, till everything is pretty well liquified. Run this mixture through a food mill or pass it through a sieve. Add the buttermilk. Refrigerate for at least one hour. You can do this part up to a day ahead.

Prepare the garnish: Seed the remaining half cucumber, and the apple, and chop into very small dice, 1/4-inch or smaller. Place in separate bowls. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the apple bit to prevent browning. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over both the apples and the cukes. (To peel the apple and cuke, or not to peel? The choice is yours. My cuke had a nice thin skin, so I didn't peel it. I partly peeled the apples, which had rather tough skin, but I left some for color.)

Refrigerate all the garnishes until just before serving.

Just before serving: Mix the cream into the buttermilk-veg mixture. Chop most of the mint and chervil (use a little tarragon or fennel greens if you don't have chervil), reserving some for garnish, and stir the chopped portion into the soup. Taste for salt and add if needed--but don't overdo it; I found I liked this a little undersalted to my usual taste, to let the fruit and veg flavors really shine.

Serve out the soup into individual bowls, and take to the table along with the garnish items--the reserved cucumber and apple, the chopped red tomato, croutons and optional watermelon dice--in their separate bowls. Then each person can garnish to his/her own preference.

Other optional garnishes that occured to me: chopped roasted red pepper; finely chopped fresh hot chili (you could also blend a little hot chili into the base); toasted hazelnuts.

As I said, we wound up making this our main course, but it would be a fantastic palate-perker as a starter for an elegant summer dinner.

It's turning hot and humid again this weekend, I hear. You've been warned. Make like a good scout, and Be Prepared!

Text and photos copyright 2010 by Brett Laidlaw


el said...

Looks great, Brett, but...

Ugh! See, I plant my cucumbers super late (like, toward the end of June) to avoid the cucumber beetle plague(incidentally I do the same thing for summer squash to avoid the squash bugs) so when I see recipes like this yummy one for a cold soup I just slap my head. Toward the end of the month, maybe!

I did a cold garbanzo bean/tomato soup last night; something's definitely in the air for cold soups.

Trout Caviar said...

Hey, El, I'll bet a soup like this would be amazing with goat milk in lieu of the buttermilk. But, really, come on, you can't wait 'til the end of August to eat a cucumber! Get yourself a cuke, and make the soup!

Cheers~ Brett

Eener's Farm said...

Hi! I can't believe I haven't met you folks yet, I also live in northern Dunn County. I have a CSA farm called Eener's Farm,I'm very near Connorsville. One of my members sent me a link to your blog...good stuff. It makes my attempts at putting together recipes for my newsletters look really rather pathetic.

mdmnm said...


Lovely dish and the pictures really convey the cool buttermilk. I can almost taste it!

Nice you all are getting a break from the heat. In the mountain/desert southwest, we really look forward to the late summer rains. While they bring enough humidity for bread to mold, the temperature also drops fifteen or twenty degrees, everything greens up and you can feel fall around the corner a ways.

Trout Caviar said...

Hello Eener's Farm--Renee, is it? Thanks for checking in, and yes, I look forward to meeting in person. We go right through Connorsville on our way to our cabin. Do you sell at any markets in Wisconsin, or are you involved with the Stone Soup project of the Hay River Transtion Initiative? Hope to catch up with you this summer.

Mike, thanks. I will probably try a couple more cold soups this summer. I've been thinking about blackberry soup but it hasn't come together yet.

Funny that your summer cool means damp while here it's the dry cool fronts that bring relief. Gorgeous again here this morning, and Annabel is even more certain that we should be hunting!

Cheers~ Brett

Faith said...

Ecopolitan makes a great raw borscht- I figured out how to make it myself....carrot and beet juice (gotta have a juicer), avocado, olive oil, garlic, lime juice, fresh dill, some salt if you like, that's about put the carrot and beet juices in the blender and add the rest of the stuff and blend, taste for seasoning. I love the garlic and lime contrast....avocado makes it creamy...

Trout Caviar said...

That soup sounds really good, Faith. I have a juicer that I almost never use--but I may have to get it out to try that borscht.

Thanks~ Brett