The Big

Chill

If you can't stand the heat, making cold soup is a quick way to get out of the kitchen.

August 28, 2002|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Has this summer's heat made you contemplate giving up food altogether rather than cooking over a hot stove? Do you want to come home at night and collapse because the humidity has robbed you of your energy and appetite?

There's hope, folks. Cold soup. It may sound odd at first blush, but cold tomato soup - gazpacho - has been cooling off sweltering Spaniards for years. These days, cold soups are made several different ways with a myriad of vegetable combinations. They are tasty, refreshing and, with good bread and cheese, they easily make a summer lunch or dinner. They can also be served as a first course.

"In the dog days of summer, it's where it's at," said Diane Rossen Worthington, author of The Taste of Summer: Inspired Recipes for Casual Entertaining (Chronicle Books, 2000, $22.95) and the new Williams-Sonoma book called simply Soup (Simon & Schuster, 2001, $16.95). "It's just what you want to eat when it's really hot."

It's also just what you want to make. Most soups are simply combinations of chopped or pureed raw vegetables such as cucumber or tomato and fresh herbs like dill or basil with yogurt or chicken broth as a base. All you have to do is stand in your air-conditioned kitchen in the morning, chop and then stick the soup in the refrigerator for a tasty, light meal when you come home.

"It's very convenient to make," said Anna Pump, owner of Loaves and Fishes gourmet food shop in Long Island, N.Y. The shop sells a white gazpacho made from cucumbers, peppers, grapes, yogurt, chicken stock and garlic for $14 a quart.

Cold soups have increased in popularity as people's palates became more sophisticated, Worthington and Pump say. When Pump first opened her doors 22 years ago, she offered only two kinds, including the traditional vichyssoise, a cold leek and potato soup.

Now, at any one time during the summer, her store offers six different kinds of cold soup, including sweet pea and fennel, borscht, or watercress and potato. She sells about 75 gallons a week.

"In spring, already people are waiting for gazpachos," she said.

In Philadelphia, Chef's Market, the city's highest rated gourmet takeout, has four soups a day for sale, including two that are fruit-based, such as strawberry-melon or blueberry-yogurt. When the store first opened in 1984 people didn't buy much soup.

"The first couple of years were a push," says co-owner George Georgiou. We started "giving people samples and let them decide for themselves. ... The more they see them, they say, `Well, I'll give it a try.' "

This country's interest in gourmet food, piqued by shows on the Food Network and the growing availability of specialty ingredients, has also contributed to soup's increased popularity.

"Ten or 15 years ago, arugula and radicchio were items you might not see" in the grocery store, Worthington said. "Cold soups are enjoying an innovative rebirth, and people are more open [to trying them]."

The experts say that fresh herbs and vegetables are key to making the soups at home. The idea is to highlight the already lush taste of summer vegetables. Also critical is making sure you chill the soup for at least four hours before serving. The soup will thicken in the refrigerator, and the flavors will blend as it chills. Some soups taste radically different before they are chilled because the flavors have not mingled.

Another important note is that the seasonings should be adjusted before the soup is served. While chilling, the seasonings are often absorbed into the soup so it may need some additional salt or pepper before you bring it to the table. Serve it in chilled soup bowls with a bit of garnish for the best effect.

The recipes that follow include one soup that is cooked before it is chilled and three that are not. They vary in terms of preparation time, from 20 minutes to 45 minutes. All are suitable for a weekday dinner, a dinner party or a quick lunch.

White Grape Gazpacho

Serves 4 to 6

4 slices stale country bread, crusts removed

1 1/4 cups blanched almonds, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup fruity olive oil, walnut, grapeseed or almond oil

1/4 cup sherry vinegar

2 cups white grape juice

2 cups ice water

1 tablespoon coarse salt, or to taste

24 seedless white grapes, halved

Soak the bread in cold water for 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the almonds and the garlic in a blender or food processor and blend until the almonds are very finely ground, almost to a paste. Reserve in the blender.

Squeeze out the excess water from the bread and you will end up with balls of dough. Add the bread to the almonds and process till smooth. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream, then the vinegar, scraping down the sides often. Add the grape juice and ice water 1 cup at a time, blending after each addition. Season with the salt and blend again. Chill at least 6 hours before serving. Serve in chilled soup bowls and garnish with the grapes.

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