As spring morphs into summer, chefs across the country are playing with the abundance of seasonal vegetables to create satiating soups. Whether they’re enticed by renewed reverence for all things vegetable or merely want to help diners beat the heat, it doesn’t matter. Just start ladling.
Tomatoes are summer’s supreme produce, which in part explains the everlasting popularity of gazpacho. But the secret weapon is fresh cucumbers, says Executive Chef Joe Magnanelli of Cucina Urbana in San Diego, Calif.
“We wanted to create a modern ‘holiday’ soup that can be used for any occasion.”
— Manager Larry Galves, Manna from Heaven
June is prime for the cool, crispy cucumbers that shine in Magnanelli’s gazpacho, often spiced up with nepitella (wild Italian herb), mint or Serrano chiles. No matter what he throws in, the goal is to make sure it’s not too reminiscent of salsa. No one wants guests pining for a side of chips to scoop up their soup.
At Oxheart in Houston, Texas, Chef-owner Justin Yu plans to showcase tomatoes this summer with chilled smoked tomato consommé. Yu smokes and blends ripe tomatoes, then strains the mixture through cheesecloth, resulting in a clear, highly concentrated liquid. To top it off, he’ll play on the tomato’s natural flavors by serving them raw as a garnish.
As off as it may sound, chilled soups fare well in northern states. Abundant seasonal produce is particularly welcomed and appreciated as relief for unusually hot summer temperatures.
In Traverse City, Mich., Trattoria Stella has offered a creamy chilled soup that stars cucumber with herbs like basil and mint. “Michigan summers do get hot and we find guests are happy to try a cold soup in lieu of a salad as a starter course,” says Sarah Bielman, the catering manager. This summer, the menu takes advantage of Michigan’s local produce with chilled potato and golden tomato recipes, presented in classic soup bowls at $7 for a six-ounce portion.
Once apple season starts, diners make a beeline to Moosewood in Ithaca, N.Y., where chilled apple soup has become a late-summer staple since the restaurant began ladling it out in the early ‘80s. “We’re in a cooler part of the country, so when it finally gets hot, we all want something chilled,”, co-owner David Hirsch says. While the Scandinavian soup leans toward the sweeter side, it’s not intended for dessert. Hirsch says there is a subtle savory profile, thanks to onions and vegetable stock, that allow it to play well as a hot soup during colder months.
TIMING IS RIGHT
Chilled soups are bigger hits during late morning and afternoon at Cucina Urbana, where Magnanelli leaves them off the dinner menu. Likewise, Moosewood’s chilled apple soup is well recieved among the brunch crowd, Hirsch says, likely because of its sweeter notes.
Cold soups have more fans on the dinner menu at Oxheart, where Yu serves them as a palate opener at the start of his seven-course tasting menu. At Prasad in Portland, Ore., cold soups like grapefruit gazpacho, cucumber- avocado dill, and chilled pear are served year-round.
Manna from Heaven, a family-run food truck based in Denver, bridges the seasons with a curry-tinged pumpkin bisque that’s chilled at the end of summer and warmed for fall. “We wanted to create a modern ‘holiday’ soup that can be used for any occasion,” manager Larry Galves says.
Manna diverts from the typical pumpkin soups with Vietnamese flavors like plantains, jackfruit, water chestnuts, onions, garlic, coconut milk, squash and curry. The bisque, which is garnished with fresh cinnamon and basil, sells for $3 per 12-ounce cup.
No matter where cold soup inspiration comes from, simply strive to bring customers local, fresh ingredients and a reprieve from the summer heat. They’ll tip their spoons to you.
Stacy Warden specializes in tech and food writing for a variety of publications.
THE GREAT VICHYSSOISE DEBATE
Vichyssoise is another common cold soup—and one that’s just as quick to spark a culinary kerfuffle. Some claim the leek and potato-based soup is an American invention, while others argue it’s most definitely French. Either way, vichyssoise is a staple for both French and European menus. The one at Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Fla., gets an upscale spin with black truffle crème fraîche, Osetra caviar, white truffle oil and shaved fried potato for $10.95.
SOUP'S SWEETER SIDE
Cold soups can serve as inspiration for the ideal dessert. Fruit-based versions hit the spot at the end of a meal, like the chilled melon soup with strawberry sorbet and peach gelee that punctuates the six-course $70 tasting menu at Matthew’s in Jacksonville, Fla. An Indian-inspired mango soup begs saving room at Houston’s
Indika, complete with a bright pink raspberry-basil sorbet and cardamom cookies for $8. Chilled fruit concoctions are also a fixture on Nathan’s Soup and Salad summer menu. The Rochester, N.Y., restaurant serves a variety of sugary shots, including blueberry bisque, orange creamsicle and watermelon coconut, $1.50 each or $4.95 for a flight of four.
RED, WHITE OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN
Gazpacho may be the most recognized cold soup, but what’s its most authentic version is up for debate. Instead of getting hot under the collar, consider offering customers different takes. Aside from the widely recognized red, chunky version featuring tomatoes, cucumbers and other chopped vegetables, there are two kinds of gazpacho that hail from Spain. One is also tomato based, but it’s pureed and thickened with stale bread. The other is white, garlicky and thick from bread and ground almonds, and accented with grapes. Each benefits from a drizzle of high-quality extra virgin olive oil.