These past few weeks, for most of the country, have been HOT. This I know by the plethora of Instagram snaps of car temperature gauges zooming up into the hundred-teens, Facebook postsof popsicles melting something fierce poolside, and conversations with friends detailing massively frizzy hair do’s (don’ts), complaints of back-sticking cab rides endured from downtown-up, and the heavy sighs of electric bills bolstered skyward by the incessant hum of every AC unit in All Of The Land set on turbo.
But not here. Nope, not in San Francisco. Here, I walked to work this morning in a maxi dress, wearing a cashmere sweater – and a canvas jacket — and a scarf – and was still putting some blustery pep in my step, as my chilly exposed toes were sign enough that low booties would have been a better choice than strappy flats.
As Mark Twain most famously never said,* and seemingly every person delighted in telling me when I informed them of my decision to relocate to the Bay area, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco” — and, that has proven at least in these past few weeks, to be mostly true.
*Nerd Alert & to set the record straight: There is no evidence that Mark Twain actually said those words; in one letter, he is recorded as expressing similar displeasure with the weather in Paris – not San Francisco. So there.
It’s not that it’s actually cold; the mercury steadily reads somewhere in the 50’s at night, and in the low to mid 60’s during the day – a treat, as far as most warm-blooded humans are concerned. It’s just that this time of year, in the height of the Summer months when the majority of the country is seeking respite from the sun, we are endowed with a thick blanket of heavy fog – the “marine layer” – that makes things feel much chiller than they really are.
And so I have soup. Not exactly what conjures visions of a perfect Summertime meal, but I promise you that this soup – a light but intensely flavorful puree of zucchini, basil, and Parmesan cheese with a touch of lemon and hint of garlic – is just the thing to warm your AC-froze bones midday at the office. You turn the oven on exactly zero times, and you can suffer through the painlessly quick preparation virtually sweat free, stocking yourself with a big pot of leftovers that you can heat quickly and goes perfectly alongside a crunchy salad or light sandwich. This soup manages to be intensely creamy without actually using anything of the sort; the silkiness of zucchini simmered in vegetable stock till tender makes a fine (and bikini friendly) swap, and creates a super-charged flavor whose whole totally belies the simplicity of the ingredients.
Summer soup – you’ve just got to trust me on this one. And in other news, I’m well aware that things have been a bit (OK ALOT) quiet around here…I’m working on a new project (unrelated to the blog – or kitchen, even) that’s been sapping up a good bit of my side time, and I’m very sorry I’ve let things here dwindle down to cricket chirps as of late. (Such bad form!) I’m excited to share more with you as the weeks go forward, and I pinky-swear I have some yummy things to share with you here on a much more regular schedule.
Onward – and upward!
Zucchini, Parmesan, and Basil Soup
6 servings (makes about 8 cups)
A dollop of cool Greek yogurt would be great on this soup (and add a shot of protein), and though I haven’t expressly tried it this way, I suspect it would also be great served chilled (with my suspicions mostly confirmed after licking a serving spoon when heating up the leftovers….).
1.5 lbs (24 oz) fresh zucchini (about 6 medium), roughly chopped
1 medium sized white onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
4 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
10 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
zest of 1 lemon
kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper
pea shoots or fresh arugula, for garnish (about 1/4 cup per serving)
a few wispy shreds of Parmesan, to serve (totally optional)
Heat a large heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat; if you have dutch oven, this is the perfect time to use it. When the pot is hot, add just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Add in the onion and a good pinch of salt, and saute, stirring occasionally,, till the onion is just tender and translucent on the edges, about 5 minutes (you do not want it to brown at all, just to cook and soften). Add the chopped zucchini and minced garlic to the pot, and stir; let it cook for 2 minutes, just till the garlic is tender and fragrant and the zucchini appears to wilt and look slightly tired. Add the stock and another good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper, and raise the heat to high. Let the stock come just to a boil, and then reduce the heat down to medium. Simmer the vegetables for 15 minutes, till the zucchini is fork tender.
When the zucchini is tender, take the soup off of the heat, and set it to the side. Stir in the roughly chopped basil, the parmesan cheese, and the lemon zest. Puree the soup in a blender or food processor, carefully working in batches, until it is completely blended and silky smooth. (You can also puree the soup using an immersion blender – either way works fine.) Taste the soup and adjust salt and pepper levels if necessary.
To serve, ladle the hot soup into a bowl, and top with a small pile of the pea shoots (or fresh arugula). Top with a few additional wisps of Parmesan (if so inclined), and enjoy!