Chilled soups and garlicky flame-licked toasts are a perfect summer combination, whether you're looking for an elegant make-ahead menu for entertaining or for those evenings when you just can't be bothered to cook.
While these refreshing chilled soups sadly don't prepare themselves, they are ideal make-ahead dishes. Both soups will keep well in the fridge for three to five days, and the zucchini soup freezes extremely well. (You can freeze the potato soup, but the texture will be impacted.) Prep these soups in the cool morning hours and they'll be perfectly chilled and ready to enjoy in the hot afternoon sun.
The word bruschetta (pronounced broo·sKeh·tuh) is derived from the Italian term bruscare, meaning to cook over hot coals. Bruschetta are thin slices of bread, often cut on the diagonal from a long baguette-type loaf, that have been generously doused with olive oil and grilled until just lightly charred and warm. They can be served simply with a kiss of fresh garlic or they can act as a vehicle for a limitless variety of toppings, from creamy fresh cheese to roasted mushrooms to caper-spiked tuna. Bruschetta is one of those genius dishes that can transform leftover odds and ends into delicious and satisfying meals.
Use good quality, crusty-type bread and the best olive oil you can find when preparing bruschetta. Cut the bread into ¾-inch-thick slices and brush olive oil on both sides before sprinkling lightly with salt, then place them on a preheated grill and cook until lightly toasted in both sides. Arrange the warm bruschetta on a platter, and top as desired.
White bean and red pepper bruschetta topping
1 can cannellini or Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 large roasted red pepper, cut into thin strips (about ½ cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar or 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
1 clove thinly sliced garlic
Grilled bread, to serve
Combine all the ingredients except the bread in a bowl and mix well. Set aside for 30 minutes to let the flavors meld. Spoon the mixture onto the slices of freshly grilled bread and serve.
Ricotta bruschetta topping with peas and mint
½ cup fresh or frozen peas
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Zest and juice from ½ lemon
1 tablespoon each finely chopped mint and chives
Grilled bread, to serve
Blanch the peas briefly in boiling salted water (two minutes for fresh peas, just one minute for frozen). Then drain and run them under cold water to stop them from cooking further. Drain the chilled peas and toss them in a bowl with the olive oil, lemon zest and juice and chopped herbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve a crowd, place the ricotta in a mound in the center of a serving platter and use the back of a spoon to flatten the mound and create a well in the center. Spoon the pea mixture over the ricotta, then drizzle with additional olive oil and serve with a basket of bruschetta. To assemble individual bruschetta, spoon the ricotta directly onto the toasts and top with the pea mixture.
Once the peas are out of season, which won't be long in this hot, dry season, switch them out for chopped tomatoes with garlic and basil or marinated mushrooms. The possibilities are endless.
Chilled zucchini and avocado soup
1 pound zucchini
1 cup water
1 cup whole milk yogurt
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped (basil or dill is also good)
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Thinly sliced zucchini, avocado and herbs for garnish
Wash and slice the zucchini into ½-inch-thick rounds. Bring the water to a boil in a pot fitted with a steamer basket. Steam the zucchini for 10 minutes until just fork tender, then remove the zucchini from the pot, and set aside to cool for about 30 minutes. Do not discard the steaming water.
When the zucchini has cooled to room temperature, combine it with the steaming water, avocado, yogurt, herbs, garlic, lemon zest and juice in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. You may have to do this in batches. If desired the soup can be strained through a fine mesh sieve for an ultra-smooth texture. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed, then chill thoroughly before serving.
Vichyssoise (chilled potato soup)
3-4 leeks (or one large yellow onion)
3 tablespoons butter
2-3 russet potatoes
3 cups unsalted chicken or vegetable stock or water
1 cup half-and-half or heavy cream
Salt, pepper and freshly grated nutmeg to taste
Minced parsley and chives, for garnish
Slice the leeks and wash them well in several changes of water, taking care to separate the rings and rinse out any grit. Heat the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium high heat. When the butter is melted and sizzling, add the washed leeks along with a pinch of salt and sauté for two to three minutes, until the leeks are softened and fragrant but not brown. Add the potatoes, stock and another pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes until the potatoes are very tender.
Let the soup cool before adding the cream and pureeing with a blender or food processor. Use caution when processing hot liquids in a blender as the steam can build up pressure and cause the lid to blow off. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Chill thoroughly before serving. Garnish with minced parsley and chives as desired.