Monday, June 7, 2010

Frontier Gastronomy, vol. 1: Liquid Summer

(Today we welcome a new contributor, Frontier Gastronomist, with the introduction of her new weekly column for the aspiring urban chef.  We hope that your inner gourmet enjoys.  For more, check out her blog K-Town Homestead.)

In theory, gazpacho is an excellent idea: cool, refreshing, and chock full of summer produce. In practice, gazpacho is all too often a wan bowl of raw-tasting tomato slurry. Even worse, there is the overly chunky gazpacho, basically a watery pico de gallo -- minus the chips -- masquerading as soup. "Gazpacho" didn't always mean the cold tomato soup (the Andalusian form of the dish) that we have come to identify with that name. The existence of gazpacho pre-dates the arrival of the new-world tomato, and several regions have recipes for heated versions. The Foods of Spain and Portugal (from the indispensable 1960's Time-Life cookbook series Foods of the World) reports that Greek and Roman literature mention gazpacho only as a 'drinkable food', with no specific ingredients. The idea of drinkable food is indeed appealing, especially in the afternoon heat of summer. Cold soups have long been a way to slake summertime thirst, to refresh overheated diners and, most importantly, to save chefs from the sweaty confines of the kitchen.

We are still a few weeks away from the first of the good summer tomatoes, but the heat is upon us here in Chicago, and cold soups look mighty appealing. What's an overheated chef to do? Peaches have just hit the markets -- they are cheap and abundant, and just the thing to cook up into a light, cool summer soup. Chilled fruit soups, though uncommon here in the United States, are popular in northern and central Europe. A sweet anomaly in an otherwise savory category, fruit-based soups can be as refreshing and cooling as gazpacho, and have the added frisson of rarity on the table. As a drinkable food, this chef finds fruit soups much more satisfying than vegetable-based gazpachos. Save the tomatoes for the pico de gallo. And not to encroach on Frontier Mixologist territory, but if you have some sparkling wine around, the leftovers make for a nice bellini.

Cold Peach Melon Soup
(adapted from Mollie Katzen)

6 ripe peaches
1/4 cup white wine
6 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 ripe cantaloupe
1 cup orange juice

1. Peel and slice peaches. Put in a medium saucepan with the wine, lemon juice, honey and spices. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Puree until smooth

2. Peel and seed the melon. Mince a small slice for garnish and set aside. Roughly chop the rest of the melon and puree with the orange juice.

3. Combine the two purees and chill. Serve very cold, garnished with the minced melon.



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