In the heat and humidity, the claim of an old Spanish proverb strikes me as especially apt: "Of soup and love, the first is best." And of cold and hot soups, in summer the first is better.
For nothing beats refreshing cold soup for hot-day cooling power. Iced vegetable potages or unsweetened fruit blends stimulate flagging appetites at the start of a meal, while frosty, sweet fruit soups bring light meals to a perfect end.
Zucchini becomes a welcome dinner guest in yogurt soup while home-grown tomatoes show off best in gazpacho or chilled tomato soup. If there are potatoes around, vichyssoise is an inevitable result. Beets equal borscht in many people's minds. And cucumbers, spinach, sorrel, peas, cabbage, eggplant, watercress, parsley -- all find their way first into the soup pot, then the refrigerator.
With cold vegetable soups I serve pita, French bread, dumplings, miniature profiteroles or croutons, minced chives and minced parsley, chopped hard boiled eggs, nasturtium flowers and bacon bits. And I offer croissants or sweet rolls, sauteed almonds, zucchini flowers and lemon twists with fruit soups.
For the diet-conscious, cold soups can be mercifully free of fats. If vegetable soups have been prepared with meat broth or butter, the congealed fat can be scraped from the top. Buttermilk can take the place of heavy cream as the base for a fruit soup, and yogurt works as a substitute for the whipped cream or sour cream garnish.
The great point about cold soups is that all the work can be done in the cool of the morning. Then they can be whipped out of the refrigerator ready to eat in the heat of late day.
GERMAN FRUIT SOUP
This typical fruit soup recipe, given to me by a German friend, is versatile enough to begin or end a summer meal, and it also highlights the freshest of summer berries.
1 pint blueberries
1/2 cup fresh red currants
1 cup strawberries or raspberries
1 cup fresh or canned sour cherries, pitted and drained
2 cups water
sugar to taste
Clean fruit and place in a saucepan with water and sugar. Cook over low heat until tender. Drain fruit in a sieve without crushing. Reserve fruit and add enough water and/or juice from canned cherries to the fruit liquid to make 1 quart. Bring liquid to a boil over medium heat. Pour liquid over fruit. Refrigerate until chilled. To serve as a dessert, pass a vanilla sauce or sweetened whipped cream. To serve as a first course, thin mixture with fruity white wine or with red wine. Serves four to six.
SUMMER TOMATO SOUP
Not all tomato soups are gazpacho. When Anna Pump's "Loaves and Fishes Cookbook" was published in 1985, I discovered this unusual first-course tomato soup that Ms. Pump calls "uniquely piquant."
2 tablespoons safflower oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
3 cups chicken stock
3 cups peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 cups orange juice
rind of 1 orange, grated
1/4 cup heavy cream
strips of orange zest for garnish
Heat oil in a large soup pot. Add onion and saute over low heat until transparent. Add garlic, chicken stock, tomatoes, salt, pepper and allspice and simmer 12 minutes. Let cool slightly. Puree half the soup in a food processor and pour into a serving bowl. Repeat with other half. Add orange juice, rind and cream to soup. Stir well and chill at least 4 hours. Garnish with orange zest strips. Serves six.