Thursday, July 21, 2011

Back, with a bushel of zucchini

I've been back in the States almost two months now and this is the first free moment I've found to write on the blog. Life has been a flurry, of moving around, job hunting, catching up with friends and visiting all the New York spots that I missed while I was away. But things are finally taking on a sense of normalcy, allowing me some time to tell you about something important: summer zucchini.

When I got back from France, I did two things almost immediately: one, became a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op, that alternately venerated and misunderstood Brooklyn temple of local and organic food; and two, signed up for a CSA share of local fruit and vegetables. Having spent a long time in Europe, where, it seems to me, people are both more passionate and more discriminating than the majority of us Americans when it comes to the quality of their food, I would say that my growing interest in healthy, sustainable produce pretty much reached its peak. I didn't want to go back, upon returning home, to eating ordinary supermarket items flown in from California or Argentina or wherever. And I haven't looked back.

Anyone even marginally familiar with vegetable gardening knows about summer squash and, well, what a beast it is, basically. This vegetable (I suppose it is biologically a fruit) just erupts out of the ground come late June, fruiting and fruiting and producing tons of zucchinis. Gardeners sometimes don't know what to do with all their bounty, giving them away to neighbors, turning them into breads and cakes. There are even numerous gardeners' sayings about zucchini (here's a sample one "Zucchinis, terrific/Like bunnies, prolific!"). I've grown zucchini myself so I know this to be true, and just in case I'd forgotten, my weekly CSA share has certainly reminded me. For weeks now we've been getting bunches of small squash in all varieties: yellow and green; pattypan, crookneck, and everything in between. Fortunately for me, I love zucchini. Not so fortunately, I've been super busy at work lately, leaving little time to cook. So quite inadvertently, a small stockpile of squash began building up in my refrigerator's crisper drawer, until I finally found the time, yesterday, to deploy my arsenal.

Like any true NYC summer, this one, so far, has been humid and blazing hot. So what I wanted from my zucchini was something to cool me down. I improvised a simple chilled soup, first sautéing chopped green onions and garlic (also from my CSA) in olive oil, then adding a whole mess of chunked zucchini. I let that sweat down just a little bit, then added water almost to cover (the zucchini will let out a lot of liquid as it cooks, so you want to be careful not to add too much water). Once the squash was tender, I puréed the soup in batches in the blender, adding a couple of dollops of plain yogurt, plus a few fresh mint leaves and some additional seasoning, as I went. When everything was smooth and light green, I let the soup chill in the fridge before enjoying it with some homemade croutons. Say hello to my new favorite summer lunch:

Chilled Summer Squash Soup with Yogurt and Mint

Serves 8


- 4 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 bunch scallions, trimmed of any brown or stringy parts, roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 3 lbs. summer squash of any variety, chopped into rough pieces
- Water
- Salt
- Pepper
- About 1 cup plain yogurt
- A handful of fresh mint leaves, washed


1. In a large, deep, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame. Add the scallions and stir; add the garlic a few minutes later. Season with some salt and saut
é for a few minutes, until the scallions start to break down.
2. Add the squash along with a few pinches of salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir to combine. Let the squash sweat for 4 or 5 minutes, then add just enough water to almost cover the squash, about 4 cups. Cover and bring to a boil, then drop to a steady simmer and leave partially covered.
3. Cook soup until squash is just tender, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and, working in batches, ladle the soup into a blender (you can also leave the soup in the pot and use an immersion blender). Pur
ée, adding a dollop of yogurt, plus a few mint leaves and additional seasoning, with each batch. If the soup is looking too thin, try to leave behind some of your cooking liquid, and if too thick, add more.
4. Check soup for seasoning and allow to chill in the fridge for several hours. Serve, garnishing with additional chopped mint and, preferably, some homemade croutons (see recipe below).

Homemade Croutons
Makes two cups


- Day-old bread, preferably crusty (ie, a baguette), cut into small cubes and yielding 2 cups
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- Salt
- Pepper
- Dried herbs, such as thyme, oregano, sage, etc.


1. In a bowl, toss the bread cubes with the olive oil, a generous amount of salt and pepper, and a sprinkling of the herbs. Make sure each cube is coated in oil.
2. Place bread cubes in a large wide skillet set over medium-low heat and cook, tossing occasionally, for about 6 - 10 minutes, or until bread is fragrant, golden, and crunchy. Let cool completely before serving.
3. Alternatively, you can bake the croutons in a 325
° oven. Set bread cubes on a sheet tray and bake, stirring occasionally, for about 6 - 10 minutes, or until bread is fragrant, golden, and crunchy. Let cool completely before serving.


veggie central said...

WoW! Delicious looking soup and looks so refreshing. I plan to make it soon for a HOT day. So glad you are back to writin' and cookin'!

veggie central said...

Follow up from my last comment. I made the soup today. SO easy and delicious. Loved using the fresh mint I have growing outside. Despite putting in the freezer AND adding some ice cubes, it could have been colder for our dinner, but was delicious anyway. Tomorrow it will be nice and COLD!