Soups perfect for summer

By Jan Roberts-Dominguez For The Bulletin

While poking around New York City’s Museum of Natural History one summer, my husband and I realized lunchtime was upon us, and we were mighty hungry. From our third-floor location, we were directed one floor up to the Cafe on 4. Any sort of nibble would have hit the spot, but no compromises needed to be considered since the menu — like so many other Manhattan offerings — was unique and above average. Even the soup of the day seemed promising: gazpacho. Gazpacho!

Confident of her fare, the little eatery’s sole waitress offered a taste of the soup before we committed. Oh my, it was wonderful, so two grown-up servings followed. From the zesty melange of summer tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers and celery, to the creamy dollop of creme fraiche on top and hand-fried tortilla chips on the side, our quick little stop in an out-of-the-way corner of this mighty museum proved to be a memorable experience.

My own version of this hot-weather soup is similar. It’s zesty, loaded with fresh and flavorful summer produce, and best of all, can be made up to 24 hours ahead. Because it’s chilled, and because it’s so user-friendly in terms of calories, it has remained my tried-and-true supper opener throughout the summer.

I’ve also made it at other times of the year, but the flavor can’t compare to those batches made from tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers that have journeyed no farther than the distance between my garden (or farmers market) and kitchen.

Of course, the whole concept of chilled soups has been around a long time, and by now you’ve probably got a few favorites that you trot out this time of year. Most of the good ones rely on local vegetables and fruits. They can be smooth and creamy or thick and robust. And, like the ones I’m sharing, they all come with the unspoken encouragement of free-wheeling, as based on your own inclinations.

— Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, cookbook author and artist. Contact: janrd@proaxis.com.

Jan’s Roasted Vegetable Bisque

Makes about 8 cups.

This is one of my favorite “company soups.” So rich in flavor for very little effort.

10 to 15 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled

2 yellow onions, peeled, root ends cut off, chopped into eighths

1 to 2 leek bulbs (white and pale green portion; root end cut off, halved lengthwise, then cut into 1-inch chunks to measure 2 C)

2 shallots, peeled, root ends cut off, quartered

1 med carrot sliced lengthwise and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 lg Yukon Gold potato, peeled and quartered

½ med sweet red pepper, stem, seeds and veins removed

¼ C coarsely chopped basil leaves

1½ TBS olive oil

1½ TBS melted butter

4 C chicken broth

1 C half-and-half

Additional half-and-half and (perhaps) sour cream (see note)

Salt and ground white pepper to taste

Garnish: sour cream, chopped fresh basil, roasted cherry tomatoes (optional, see note)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare all of the vegetables for roasting. You will have about 1 heaping quart of prepared vegetables.

In a roasting pan, combine the garlic, yellow onions, leeks, shallots, carrot, potatoes, red pepper and basil. Drizzle with the olive oil and melted butter, and toss to coat the vegetables, then sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss again. Roast until the garlic cloves are very tender and the other vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 1 to 1½ hours.

Vegetables may be prepared to this point up to 48 hours ahead and refrigerated.

In a large pot, combine the roasted vegetables with the chicken stock (be sure to deglaze the roasting pan with some of the stock to get all of the cooked-on bits of vegetable into the soup). Simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are very tender.

Remove from heat and let the soup cool slightly. Either puree in batches in a blender or food processor, or process with a hand-held mixer. Add the half-and-half, salt and white pepper to taste.

Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve cold or gently reheat.

To garnish each serving: squeeze an artistic drizzling of sour cream on each serving and a sprinkling of chopped chives (or other herb that might look beautiful and not be too pungent).

Note: After adding the half-and-half to the soup, determine if it needs more half-and-half to thin, or maybe sour cream (if the flavor from the onions and carrots has made the soup too sweet).

Roasting cherry tomatoes for garnish: For a little more flavorful and colorful garnish, consider roasting cherry tomatoes along with the other vegetables (keep an eye on them during the roasting and remove them from the oven just as they’re beginning to wrinkle and brown). Add two or three to each serving.

Summer Gazpacho

Makes about 2½ quarts, enough for 8 to 10 servings.

This amazing hot-weather soup is the perfect offering for your next-day hike, as long as you don’t mind carrying a thermos. It packs a lot of flavor and texture, so it’s particularly satisfying on the trail. Accompaniments — either a handful of good quality tortilla chips, fresh baguette or your favorite crackers — are blessedly light.

4 lg tomatoes, chopped

1 cucumber, peeled and chopped

1 green sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 bunch green onions, chopped

3 C vegetable cocktail juice (such as V-8)

1 (10½-oz) can double strength beef broth, undiluted (or vegetable broth)

5 TBS wine vinegar

2 TBS olive oil

1 C mild salsa or picante sauce

2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1 TBS each: minced fresh basil and dill (or 1 tsp dried)

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp hot pepper sauce

1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

Garnishes (any, or all): sour cream, fresh croutons, avocado chunks, pickled jalapeno slices, fresh-cooked corn kernels, tortilla chips, shredded cheese.

Combine all of the ingredients except garnishes in a large pot. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours, or overnight.

Serve very cold, with the garnishes alongside for diners to add at will.

1-minute Gazpacho

Makes about 4½ cups of soup.

Gazpacho! What a wonderful summertime treat. The only problem is the pile of veggies that need chopping. Well, during one fast-paced weekend, I needed to make a batch, and I needed to make it quick. So I cheated by starting with my favorite store-bought fresh salsa. It was absolutely wonderful!

2 (14-oz) containers of commercially prepared fresh salsa (see note)

1 C of chicken broth or V-8 juice (if you want to produce a vegetarian soup, then stick with the V-8 juice; otherwise, the chicken broth adds a little more depth in flavor)

3 TBS extra-virgin olive oil

Garnishes: sour cream, chunks of avocado and fresh-cooked corn kernels

Add 1 container of salsa to your blender jar and pulse on-off a few times to mince the vegetables into smaller chunks. Pour into a bowl. Add the other container of salsa to the blender and repeat the mincing. Pour into the bowl and stir in the broth or V-8 juice and the olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour so the flavor can develop.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, then garnish each bowl with sour cream, avocado and corn.

Note on fresh salsa: You’ll find fresh salsas (as opposed to bottled salsas) in the refrigerator section of your supermarket. The brand I use for this recipe is Emerald Valley Kitchen organic salsa (produced in Eugene). I use the “mild” version, as opposed to “medium” or “hot.”

Cold Tomato Basil Soup with Gruyere Toasts

Makes about 4 cups.

This is a refreshing soup with a rich tomato flavor. For a bit of smokiness, add about ½ teaspoon of smoked paprika during the cooking process.

1 yellow onion, chopped

¼ C chopped fresh basil

1 TBS butter

1 TBS olive oil

2 lbs tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped (see note)

2 TBS tomato puree

1 tsp sugar

2 C chicken or vegetable stock (canned is OK)

2 TBS balsamic vinegar

8 drops hot pepper sauce

Salt to taste

2 TBS cream or sour cream (optional)

8 (¼-inch-thick) baguette slices, cut on the bias

1 C shredded Gruyere cheese

Additional garnish: sprig of fresh basil and cherry tomatoes

Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Saute the onion and basil in the butter and olive oil until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar and chicken stock.

Cook tomato, onions, tomato puree and sugar with the chicken or vegetable stock over medium heat for approximately 20 minutes, or until very soft.

Puree the mixture in a food processor (alternatively, if you want to remove the seeds, push the tomato mixture through a strainer). Add vinegar, hot pepper sauce and salt to taste. For a slightly creamier version, whisk in the cream or sour cream. Chill until ready to serve.

Meanwhile, place the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Broil 6 inches from the heat until lightly toasted on both sides, about 2 minutes total. Top the toasts with the Gruyere and broil for about 30 seconds, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

To serve, ladle a portion of the soup into each bowl. Place a Gruyere toast on top, and add a sprig of fresh basil and a few cherry tomato halves on top. Pass the additional toasts at the table.

Note on peeling tomatoes: Slice a shallow X through the skin at the bottom of each tomato (don’t core the tomatoes yet). Drop tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon after 20 to 30 seconds (you will see the skin beginning to peel away at the X). Place in bowl of ice water until cool enough to handle. The skin will simply slip away.

Vichyssoise

Makes about 8 cups of soup.

Although there’s a bit of disagreement regarding this soup’s origination, most within the culinary world (including Julia Child) believe it was created in 1917 by Chef Louis Diat of New York’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. His creation was an adaptation of Soupe Bonne Femme — a French soup he enjoyed as a child, consisting of chopped leeks and potatoes, served hot, with milk or butter added at the last moment. Diat decided to treat his hotel patrons with a chilled version. He named it Vichyssoise Glacee, after Vichy, a town not far from his hometown of Montmarault, France.

2 TBS butter

6 sm, young leeks, chopped (white and pale green portions only)

1 med yellow onion, chopped

4 med russet potatoes, peeled and chopped

4 C chicken broth

1½ C heavy cream or half and half

Salt and white pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter and saute the leeks and onion for about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and broth and cover, simmering for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Place small batches of the mixture in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture back into the pot or another container, stir in the cream or half and half, and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Chill well before serving.

Cream of Avocado Soup

Makes about 4½ cups.

I began making this wonderful and simple summer soup back in the ’70s! In my estimation, it’s never gone out of style.

2 lg, ripe Haas avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into chunks

2½ C good quality chicken broth

1 TBS chopped green onion (white portion)

1 C half and half

1 TBS lemon juice

Salt to taste

Garnish: salsa, sour cream, chopped green onion

In a blender or food processor, combine the avocado, chicken broth and green onion. Blend until smooth. Add the cream and lemon juice, and continue to blend. Add more cream if necessary to reach the desired consistency. Salt to taste and chill for 1 to 2 hours.

When ready to serve, ladle a portion of the soup into each soup bowl. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the salsa onto the center of each serving, then top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the chopped green onion. Alternately, you could squeeze the sour cream through a nozzle in a random pattern over the surface of the soup.

Summertime Corn Chowder

Makes about 8 C of soup.

A great summer soup — especially when corn season is in full swing.

3 lg onions, diced

¼ C finely minced yellow sweet bell pepper

2 TBS salad oil

6 lg ears corn, husked

½ lbs new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into ¼-inch dice

¼ lbs cooked ham, cut into ¼-inch dice

2½ C chicken broth

2½ C milk

½ tsp salt

¼ tsp white pepper

In a large soup pot, saute onions and yellow pepper in salad oil over medium-high heat until softened and lightly golden, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut corn kernels from the cobs. Place the kernels in a food processor or blender and coarsely chop. Add the corn, potatoes, ham and chicken broth to the pot with onions. Cover, bring the mixture to a boil and simmer just until the potato cubes are tender when pierced, about 15 or 20 minutes; cool. Stir in milk, salt and white pepper and chill for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.

Garnish each serving with thinly sliced green onions.

Jan Roberts Domiguez / submitted photo Jan’s Roasted Vegetable Bisque makes a nice meal for a hot day.
Meg Roussos / The Bulletin Serve Cold Tomato Basil Soup with Gruyere Toasts and some more tomatoes and basil for garnish.