My mother was a fairly utilitarian cook; as a university professor, she didn’t have much time to enjoy preparing meals the way I do. However, she believed that having a family meal was important, and she developed a repertoire of solid meals, mostly cribbed from newspaper articles and magazine clippings, that somehow still reflected her Argentine heritage. We ate foods my friends had never heard of (well, really – foods they called “weird.”) but that were delicious and good for us and that broadened my culinary horizons.
For his birthday, I always allow my son Sparky to choose the meals for the day. I always expect fried foods or cheese-gloppy tacos and other “kid” foods which cause involuntary shudders in nutritionists and parents alike. This year, while lunch was predictable enough: nutella and banana-filled crepes, for dinner, he surprised me by asking for homemade sliders with caramelized onions, and Abuelita’s cold zucchini soup, bell pepper wedges and of course, @bronxzooscobra cake. (Truthfully, that was AFTER I told him he couldn’t have his first choice dinner: pecan pie followed by birthday cake. Upon reflection, he agreed that he might not sleep too well after that meal.)
My Mom’s zucchini soup is a summer staple in our house, it’s mostly vegetables in a bit of chicken stock. I’ve streamlined her version to make it even simpler. As soon as we had a free Sunday, I took the opportunity to teach Sparky to make it himself.
2-3 bright green zucchini (approximately 1 lb)
1 red onion
2 cups chilled low-salt chicken stock
1 small handful fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste
This soup starts with the most fundamental vegetable preparation: a sauté of onions and zucchini in a bit of olive oil. Almost any vegetable can be prepared this way, from tomatoes to potatoes to bok choy to kolhrabi – a quick sear over high heat with an aromatic (onions, garlic, celery, peppers and sometimes carrots) is a delicious way to showcase your produce.
The first step is to cut the vegetable into pieces that are all about the same size and shape – for zucchini, this means removing the stem and the small button at the end, and then slicing them into disks.
Then the onions were loosely chopped, and both were put together in a hot skillet. Since in this case we are hoping to soften everything, we crowded the pan, added a bit of salt, and allowed the natural juices to steam and soften the zucchini as we moved it around. (If you’re going for sautéed zucchini instead of soup, leave some room in the pan and allow it to brown a bit before you stir or flip it to sear the other side; salt it when it’s done. In that case, you want it to be slightly crunchy.)
When the zucchinis were soft, we added them to the blender and blended them into mush. Sparky added about 2 cups of chilled chicken stock (low-salt canned is fine) and then a good handful of fresh parsley to help keep it nice and green. Then we tasted it and added salt and pepper as needed (overseason just a little bit; chilled foods tend to taste bland.)
After it was blended until totally smooth and creamy, we poured it into a pitcher with an frozen insert originally intended for iced tea, and set it in the refrigerator to chill for two hours – it tends to thicken slightly, so have some more chilled chicken stock on hand in case you need to thin it a bit.
We served it as a starter with homemade croutons and a dollop of sour cream. It’s smooth and cool with a hint of sweetness and completely delicious on a hot summer evening.
Michele Hays believes that any dish, even one that’s strange to you, communicates the care of the farmer, forager, market and cook who brought it to your plate. At her blog, Quips, Travails and Braised Oxtails, she puts on her explorer hat, rolls up her sleeves (and sometimes the sleeves of innocent bystanders) and shares her adventures in cooking, eating, and understanding our relationship to food. Michele also offers in-home cooking classes and parties for the culinarily challenged in the Chicago North Shore area.