How do you make a carrot taste more like a carrot and yet taste completely original at the same time? Turn it into a cold summer soup - a bright, fresh, satiny elixir, a spoonful of which tastes like a whole gardenful of carrots in your mouth.
Using the same technique, you similarly can transform peas or favas or corn or zucchini or peppers, broccoli, cauliflower - just about any edible plant.
Even better, the cold-soup technique is one of the easiest things you can learn in the kitchen, and it uses summer flavors at their peak.
Here's how it works: Choose your vegetable, then cook it, blend it, adjust the consistency with a liquid if necessary, season and strain.
The logic is simple. You simply bring a vegetable to its peak of flavor by cooking it in the same manner you would use when serving it hot.
Green vegetables - peas, broccoli and asparagus - you cook in a big pot of heavily salted, vigorously boiling water, then shock in ice water.
Root vegetables such as carrots, turnips and beets, you glaze - that is, cook in a little bit of liquid and butter until that liquid evaporates and the vegetables become coated with the shiny, sweet reduction of the cooking liquid.
Cauliflower and sweet bell peppers are exquisite poached in cream. Vegetables normally served raw you need not cook at all - cucumber or tomato, for example.
Because vegetables are composed largely of tasteless cellulose and fiber, you must next blend the heck out of them and then strain them through a fine-meshed sieve called a chinois. The chinois, now widely available in fine cooking stores, is critical to a clean, luxurious texture.
The final step in all cooking is seasoning. You'll need salt, of course, but with these soups, you will typically add some kind of fat as well, most often olive oil. Sometimes you will also need an acid. And that's all there is.
As always, there are keys to finesse. Any dish using so few ingredients can only be as good as those ingredients. Choose the best. If your vegetable is pale and flavorless, your soup will be, too. If your olive oil is harsh or rancid, your soup will be unpleasant to eat.
As you become comfortable with the cook-blend-season-strain method, you will find that various vegetables benefit from slight alterations in ingredients or technique. Peas and fava beans might be enhanced by truffle oil rather than olive oil. For a pure corn soup, blend, strain and then cook, allowing the starch from the corn to thicken the soup. For a zucchini soup, blanch a whole zucchini, seed it, wring out as much water as possible, then blend-season-strain. Dried white beans, properly cooked, make a wonderful cold summer soup, seasoned with mint and olive oil.
Here's another secret: Many of these cold soups are delicious hot, too. And one more: Pour a little of the soup onto a plate, and it's a dazzling sauce for a main course.
Keller and Ruhlman are co-authors of "The French Laundry Cookbook" (Artisan, $50)
Chilled Carrot Soup
Makes 4 servings
1 pound carrots, cut in 1-inch pieces
5 cups carrot juice, divided use
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons honey
curry powder, optional
1 cup whipping cream
salt white pepper, optional
pea shoots, for garnish
Simmer carrots, 2 1/2 cups carrot juice, butter, honey and dash curry powder, if desired, in saucepan until liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour.
Add cream, bring to simmer and cook 3 minutes. Puree in blender with remaining carrot juice until smooth, about 2 minutes. Push through fine-mesh strainer, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Chill 1 hour.
Divide among 4 chilled soup bowls and garnish with sweet pea shoots.
Per serving: 408 calories; 245 milligrams sodium; 87 milligrams cholesterol; 25 grams fat; 45 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 4.18 grams fiber
Chilled Tomato Soup
Makes 4 servings
2 pounds tomatoes
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons (12-year-old) balsamic vinegar or good-quality wine vinegar
Core and blanch tomatoes 10 seconds in boiling water, shock in ice water and peel.
Slice tomatoes in half along their equator and squeeze to remove seeds.
Puree in blender until smooth, while adding oil and vinegar; season with salt to taste while continuing to blend. Taste puree and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Press puree through fine-mesh strainer using ladle into clean container, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.
Per serving: 137 calories; 610 milligrams sodium; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 11 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams protein; 1.44 grams fiber