Friday, January 18, 2008

Some Like It Warm

After several days of chicken broth and no real effort in the kitchen, I decided to bounce back with a soup that has real sustenance with minimal effort. I'm not usually a big fan of chilled soups (and believe me, I know that gazpacho, the mother of all cold soups, is from Spain--I'm still not into it) but I really love a certain cold soup served warm and with a few changes. Traditionally, vichyssoise is a puree of potatoes and leeks mixed with a bit of cream, but I like to add a bit of a twist by adding a few more ingredients to beef up the flavor.

Since this was the first truly homemade meal I'd be making post fever (and keeping in mind that I'm still a bit froggy in the voice department) I figured a good place to start would be to add more veggies. A few years ago I took a stab at Ina Garten's warm zucchini vichyssoise from her cookbook, Barefoot in Paris. In general, I found the recipe a bit bland for a warm soup (it would probably work well cold), but decided that with a few tweaks, it would have the potential to be a delicious light puree. It wasn't until this week that I finally got to test it with my changes, but I think it turned out great. One of the flaws that I found in Garten's recipe is that she doesn't sauté all of the vegetables. After heating the leaks in olive oil and butter, she simply adds the chopped zucchini and potatoes to the pan and immediately brings the mixture to a boil in chicken broth. Instead, I sautéed everything together and allowed for a bit of carmelization and also made sure to lightly salt everything to draw out those veggie juices and flavors.

I'd originally toyed with adding some kind of herb for freshness, or maybe a dry spice for heat, but couldn't really find anything that worked. So after a few moments of reflection (and watching Project Runway) I finally decided to try adding a bit of acidity. In staying with the soup's lovely green theme, I dug out a few limes and pretended like I knew this flavor combination was going to work. In the end, it did. But then again, I generally find that adding a squirt of lemon or lime to most soups really brightens up the flavor, so there wasn't a huge window for failure. The last thing I changed was the amount, and type, of dairy. Instead of heaps of heavy cream (although in Ina's defense, I think it was only a few tablespoons in her recipe) I went with just two tablespoons of half and half. I know that seems like a cop out, but I mostly added it for finish (also, it broke my heart to mess with the lovely color that develops as the vegetables slowly brake down).

That said, it won't look like much until after it's pureed, but once it is, the soup takes on a beautiful velvety texture, and a radiant spring green color that you don't see very much of in the winter. Although I normally find running food through a mill exhausting, the vegetables in this recipe are so soft and delicate after they're cooked, that it's a breeze--I was done in less than five minutes. I'm also normally a stickler for peeling vegetables for purees, but the zucchini peel is so soft after cooking that it almost melts--and the small pieces that don't are tender and harmless, just lovely emerald dots studding the soup for an almost rustic feel. If you don't have a food mill, they're actually pretty cheap, can be taken apart for easy storage, and are usually available at the hardware store. They're not required kitchenware, but are the best way to puree without whipping any extra air into your dish, and a great way to catch the skins from hard to peel veggies. If you don't have one handy, go ahead and use an immersion or stick blender. That's enough talk, here's the actual recipe:

Zucchini Vichyssoise

2 large leeks, washed and sliced
2 large zucchinis, chopped
4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp butter
2 1/2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (non-tomato based)
2 small garlic cloves
juice of 1/2 a lime
white pepper

1. Heat butter and olive oil in a medium skillet. Add leeks, a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft.

2. Add zucchini and potatoes, season with salt and pepper and sauté another 5 minutes.

3. Add chicken broth and garlic to pan and bring to a boil. Cook until zucchini and potatoes are done, about 20-30 minutes.

4. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool until it's almost warm to the touch, then run mixture through a food mill until smooth.

5. Add lime juice, taste for salt and garnish with lime zest. Enjoy!


No comments: