A cool and tangy serving of gazpacho remains a warm-weather staple, but look around restaurants and you'll find a bounty of chilled soups that highlight the flavors of summer produce.
With a little attention to detail and the right ingredients, these soups can also be a staple of your home kitchen.
At L Wine Lounge in Sacramento, Calif., dip a spoon into chef Ame Harrington's chilled carrot coconut soup and you'll find spicy and sweet flavors, plus a pleasing thickness from a russet potato, and it's mmm-m-m mmm-m-m good in a summer sort of way.
"It's so wonderful and refreshing, and it keeps you hydrated," said Harrington. "Sometimes I like to add a little potato or rice to thicken them up. Coconut milk will also give some nice body. We've even found that some customers want us to heat them up."
Whether the soup is hot or not, finding the right consistency is key. Along with using potato or rice as a thickening agent, Harrington swears by her chinois, a cone-shaped sieve, to get the right mouth feel for her soups at L Wine Lounge, and adjusting with stock if they need thinning.
"Keep in mind that soup will thicken on the second day if it's left in the refrigerator," said Harrington. "I'd rather have a soup be too thick because you can always thin it out. It's all about the blender and the chinois. That does the trick."
Chef Scott McNamara of Sacramento's Bistro Michel takes a slightly simpler approach with his summer soups, including a chilled English pea soup. He opts for recipes with fewer ingredients to better show off the flavors of his featured ingredient, be it peas, corn or asparagus.
A proper serving temperature and keen sense of seasoning is also paramount.
"I'm trying to get the essence of the vegetables," said McNamara. "If the soup's been made ahead of time, take 10 to 15 minutes to take off that icy chill. The colder anything is, the less ability you have to taste the flavors. So when you're making a cold soup, you'll want to oversalt. Your tongue won't register the saltiness to the same degree."
McNamara also recommends using a good blender for summer soups and to add water or stock slowly at first.
"The trick is to put (the blender) on the highest speed for a reasonable amount of time and always under-add the liquid until it starts to turn," said McNamara.
"If you're checking with a spoon, the soup shouldn't pour off too easily. It should coat the back of the spoon, but you don't want pea purée. You want a consistency between baby food and pea water."
We surely can't overlook gazpacho when thinking about summer soups. It's that refreshing mix of raw tomato plus other summer vegetables and a blend of spicy and tangy seasonings that's like a cool pair of sunglasses for the taste buds.
A perfectly pureéd gazpacho can also be tough to pull off without some practice. What you don't want is a tomato-based soup so thick that it feels more like a dip for chips.
The high acidity in tomatoes can also be tricky to tame. Aimal Formoli, chef and owner of Formoli's Bistro in Sacramento, recommends tasting along the way and adding crushed ice in small parts until you reach a welcome consistency.
"I learned gazpacho from an old Spanish woman who showed me it's a balance of things," said Formoli.
"The first thing we do is purée the tomatoes, then add onion and bell pepper. Then we taste again, and add an avocado to add some body and mellow the acidity. After that I put in a quarter of a jicama to smooth it out even more.
"I'll add a little champagne vinegar for extra flavor and a jalapeño with the seeds cut out," Formoli added. "From there, I take a small amount of crushed ice and blend again. It's like a balancing act, going back and forth until it's just right."
"Sitting on the patio is the perfect time for it," said Formoli.
Chilled English Pea Soup
4 cups English peas, blanched and as cold as possible
1/2 small onion, diced and sweated (onion is heated until soft but not colored)
2 large mint leaves
Salt and white pepper, to taste
2-1/2 cups water or vegetable stock
Crème fraîche, for serving, optional
Place all ingredients except water into blender. Set on "high" and add water or vegetable stock slowly until you reach the desired consistency. Check with a spoon. You'll want it to be pourable, between pea water and baby food. If it's too thin, add more peas. If too thick, add more water or stock.
Add a dollop of crème fraîche if desired.
Per serving (using water, without garnish): 121 calories; 0 g fat; 51 mg sodium; 22 g carb.; 8 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 8 g protein.
3 pounds tomatoes, cored
1 bunch scallions
Zest and juice from 2 lemons
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup good olive oil
1 cup half-and-half
Blend tomatoes, scallions, lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil and garlic in blender until soup is smooth. Send through a fine mesh strainer.
Add half-and-half. Add water to thin. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Per serving based on 6 (no garnish): 266 calories; 23 g fat; 15 mg chol.; 31 mg sodium; 14 g carb.; 4 g fiber; 7 g sugar; 4 g pro.