December 2, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Summer in a bowl

By |2018-03-21T18:37:50+01:00August 8th, 2009|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Magic from a tiny but bounteous personal garden. Drawing by Suzanne Dunaway.

he “soup, soup, beautiful soup” song from “Alice in Wonderland “has remained with me since childhood. My mother made exquisite soups for all seasons, and now I have discovered how little bowls of magic may be made from my tiny but bounteous personal garden.

Begun only eight months ago, my tiny plot in a medieval town near the Spanish border has suddenly presented me with enormous bouquets of broad-leafed basil, lemon thyme, pale olive-colored sage, Italian parsley tucked everywhere into the alyssum, lovely round yellow and green squash (which, if not watched carefully, can become the size of a soup bowl), and perfect little clusters of cherry tomatoes along with large beefsteaks.

My second good fortune is to have a neighbor whose adjacent garden grows enough to feed our entire little ville! He throws cucumbers, new potatoes, and courgettes over the fence to me while leaving bushel baskets of fresh spinach and grapes from his arbor on our mutual wall. Everyone should have such a neighbor.

There is no end to what one can create, not only from this bounty but from what we acquire at the twice-a-week open market where huge cooked beets (betteraves), kale, sweet pink and purple onions, and heirloom tomatoes and Chanterais melons abound.

With no shame whatsoever, I absconded and embellished a recipe served at our only local one-star restaurant as a little titillation before the main course, a melon and tomato soup chilled in a tiny crystal glass. The recipes that follow, serving four, are cool and fresh, extremely light and go especially well with summer mojitos and grilled main courses. Here in France we have “apero améliorée,” a sort of drinks party that meanders into the evening as little plates of delights are served. I always start with a coffee cup of soup.

Packaged, cooked beets may be found at the market and are fine for this recipe: Into the top of a food processor place

  • 1 package or 4-6 cooked beets (or boil your own until tender).

  • 1 peeled cucumber.

  • 1 tiny garlic clove.

  • 1 small plain yogurt, a good splash of extra virgine olive oil, the juice of a lemon, 2 sprigs of mint or basil and salt and pepper to taste.

Whiz up the ingredients until very smooth and serve chilled with shreds of mint or basil for garnish, or very fine slices of cucumber scattered over the top.

My other favorite requires

  • 4 large, very ripe tomatoes.

  • 1 very small sweet onion.

  • 2 large sprigs of basil, the requisite splash of olive oil, a tiny garlic clove, a pinch of sugar, a squeeze of lemon.

  • 1 or 2 packaged toast slices for texture.

You can turn this into cold pappa al pomodoro (minus the broth) into a gazpacho by adding cucumber, peeled red peppers and a very tiny hot pepperoncino, but I like the pure tomato version best. Using mint instead of basil can work, and if you wish to thin it with a little chicken broth, do so, but chill it nonetheless. It is to this basic tomato soup that I added two large slices of a very ripe melon, giving the soup a mysterious and lovely cool flavor along with a touch of mystery.

Another of my favorites for summer is vichyssoise made with tender little new potatoes and leeks. I do not even peel the potatoes, which may not appeal to some. You can strain the soup after having whizzed it up in the processor to create a perfect, silky substance that might cause a guest or two to faint.

  • 8-10 absolutely new potatoes.

  • 1 small sweet onion, and 2 small leeks, all sliced thin and sautéed in 2 soup spoons of olive oil and the same amount of butter until translucent and soft.

  • Add 2 cups rich chicken broth, salt and pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice, and put the contents of the pan into the processor.

  • Add 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, taste for seasoning and whisk until very smooth. Then put the soup through a sieve. Chill well and serve with the classic garnish, chopped chives, or lemon thyme leaves for an unusual flavor.

All of these soups may be frozen for future sweltering days, and when autumn sidles in, you may serve the soups warm with croutons. Just tell your guests these are your “new” recipes for fall.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.