’ve been thinking about how I cook and why it might be absolutely impossible to make the things I make if you’re not me. Why? In part because I doubt my fridge and larder resemble anyone else’s, but also because what I see inside them often triggers cooking whims that are entirely my own. The word eclectic wouldn’t do either my stash or my zaniness much justice.
Soups are a perfect example, since almost everyone has potential soup fixings stuck here and there in their kitchens. This summer – brutally hot in much of Europe – I’ve been making a number of delicious cold soups. Most I conjured up as I went along, based on what I had handy, and when you live in southern France, which we do, what’s handy is often red, green and fresh.
Since trying to duplicate Tuscan pepso (beef stew) a few years ago, the greatest amount of kitchen-fun I have had has been in creating summer soups.
My broth creations have been helped along by our town’s lovely little open market, where organic farmers sell all manner of goods. So it is that one of my soups hinges on beets, the likes of which I’ve never found anywhere else — sweet and meaty beets, which, after having been cooled, produce the rich broth you’ll taste in my gazpacho.
Who on earth, I wonder, just happens to have beet broth lying around to use in a soup? Though beets are by no means a gazpacho requisite, they do make things a little different, which is the way I’ve always liked it. Cooking without invention is just piano-key repetition.
Next on my summer list is cold carrot soup. Put through a chinois or strainer when cooked, the carroty liquid acquires a lovely silky texture.
It’s a mango-colored pick-me-up, ideal for sipping before throwing something summery on the barbie.
Thanks to a French friend, I picked up a wonderful zucchini soup recipe. Zucchini is both lovely and versatile. Soup aside, it can be served as a main course with bread, salad and cheese.
These off-the-wall soups are also off-the-cuff. They’re the kinds of dishes that come to those willing to take a creative look at what really lurks in the kitchen (all cupboards and cold spots included). No one will ever talk me out of my conviction that the best dishes begin with resourcefulness, and often come to life thanks to leftovers.
I leave you to the rest of your summer, and to my soups, and croutons, which I get to at the end.
- 2 cups of left-over red salted broth in which two or three beets have cooked (cut up the beets and grate a lemon peel over them, adding the juice of half a lemon and salt).
- 1 large sweet onion.
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves.
- 4 very ripe, not-peeled tomatoes.
- 2 large long cucumbers, peeled.
- Handful of cilantro.
- A few fresh basil leaves.
- Two or three sprigs of fresh mint.
- A handful of grilled almonds, if you happen to have some.
- Italian extra-virgin olive oil (worth the investment).
- Juice of a large lemon.
- Salt and pepper.
Whiz everything up wherever you whiz things and then strain it all, pressing every last drop out of the vegetables.
The residue can be used as a pasta sauce by adding olive oil and shaved parmesan or even fresh mozzarella cut in small dice. (Toss with hot penne or rotelle).
Cold carrot soup
- 8 large carrots, preferably organic, sliced into a pot.
- 1 sweet onion, treated the same as above.
- 1 garlic clove.
- ½ teaspoon cumin.
- Pinch of curry powder.
- A spoon of grated orange peel.
- The juice from this (small) orange.
- Chicken or vegetable broth.
- A dash of white wine.
- 1 small new potato, peeled and sliced, or a spoon or two of rice (for body).
- Salt and pepper (always freshly grated pepper).
Simmer everything until the carrots are tender, then cool before whizzing the mix in a food processor or blender.
Strain through a sieve (keeping all the left-over ingredients to purée with cooked potatoes for a killer side dish).
Chill well and serve.
- 2 large zucchine, sliced thick.
- 1 sweet onion, likewise.
- 1 garlic clove, mashed.
- Chicken broth (to cover the vegetables).
In a saucepan, simmer all of the above for about 15 minutes until vegetables are soft.
Once the mix has cooled, put it in a food processor or blender and add the following:
• One or two bits of formaggini, processed little plain cheeses like Bel Paese, or 1 small carton of Brebis or goat yogurt, full fat (zero or low-fat yogurt will disappoint you).
• A ripe avocado. • A few sprigs of fresh mint.
• A few sprigs of coriander.
• Juice of a large lemon.’
• Salt and pepper
Cut the bread into small cubes with kitchen scissors and toss with lots of olive oil and pepper. Toast at 180C/350F for about 15 minutes, then turn off the oven and let them dry out a bit.
I use these croutons in all of my soups and salads, to dip in hummus, and to eat with a nice little ripe apricot (pretend you’re having cobbler).
Now that you’ve taken this in, check out your kitchen and see what might be in store.