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, and--I...am...not...sweating! 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 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
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