A soup-er way to use zucchini Entertaining: That ever-abundant member of the squash family makes a fine first or main course.

August 16, 1998|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

I have never been a talented gardener; a small plot of herbs is all I can lay claim to in my back yard. Fortunately, many of my friends have green thumbs, and I am often a lucky recipient of their harvests. Plump, juicy tomatoes, long, slender cucumbers and tender salad greens are typical gifts that generous friends bring to our house. The quintessential summer vegetable - the one local gardeners seem to grow with abandon - is zucchini. I routinely receive a large basket or two of this squash once the crop is in.

This year I have a new recipe for delicious Provencal Zucchini Soup. I saute leeks and zucchini in a little olive oil and then simmer them in chicken stock along with fresh basil and thyme, two ingredients from the herb patch in my own back yard. I puree the mixture, add milk and serve the soup garnished with dollops of quickly assembled creme fraiche and with sprigs of basil and thyme.

This potage can be made a day ahead, which makes it ideal for entertaining. It would be a fine first course to precede grilled lamb, chicken or fish. You could also offer it as an entree with a salad of tomatoes and mesclun greens tossed in vinaigrette dressing and sprinkled with bits of goat cheese and Nicoise olives. Whether it's a beginning or main course, this zucchini soup is best when accompanied by a basket of warm, crusty French bread (for dipping when no one is looking).

Provencal Zucchini Soup

Serves 6

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cups chopped leeks (white and light green parts only)

3 pounds zucchini, cleaned, ends cut off and discarded and zucchini cut into 1/4-inch rounds

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/3 cup chopped basil, plus basil sprigs for garnish

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, plus thyme sprigs for garnish

3 parsley sprigs

4 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock

salt, freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 to 2 cups milk

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (color portion of rind)

squeeze of fresh lemon juice

2/3 cup sour cream

1/3 cup half and half

Heat oil in large, heavy, deep-sided pan with lid over medium heat. When hot, add leeks and saute, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Add zucchini, garlic, chopped basil, chopped thyme and parsley sprigs and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add stock, 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds black pepper. Bring mixture to simmer. Lower heat and cook, covered, until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes.

Remove soup from heat and discard parsley sprigs. Puree in batches in food processor, blender or food mill.

Return pureed soup to pan and stir in 1 1/2 cups milk. If mixture seems too thick, add extra 1/2 cup milk.

Add lemon zest and generous squeeze of lemon juice and mix well. Taste and season soup with more salt, pepper and another squeeze of lemon juice if desired.

(Soup can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, stirring before serving. If soup is too thick, thin with additional milk or stock.)

Whisk together sour cream and half and half in small bowl and let stand at room temperature 15 minutes. (If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate. Cream mixture can be prepared 1 day ahead.)

To serve, ladle soup into 6 shallow soup bowls. Garnish each portion with generous dollop of cream mixture and with basil and thyme sprigs. Pass extra cream separately in small bowl.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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