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Turn summer squash into a refreshing starter

| Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chilled soup is the perfect thing in the summer's warm weather. A bonus is that soup can be made ahead, which will keep the kitchen cool in the heat of the day. I usually make a cooked soup and refrigerate it, or I puree or chop the raw soup ingredients and chill them, skipping the cooking process altogether. A good example of an uncooked cold soup is gazpacho. This squash bisque requires some sauteing and simmering, so start preparing early in the morning or in the evening when you don't mind a little heat in the kitchen.

Summer Squash Buttermilk Bisque celebrates summer's bright colored produce and tastes like a special occasion soup. The creaminess from the soft velvety cooked squash and the slightly tart buttermilk is exceptional. It is surprisingly light. However, a low-fat alternative is to use nonfat yogurt instead of buttermilk -- just make sure to add the yogurt when the soup is chilled to avoid curdling.

I have taken the liberty to call this a bisque because it is so creamy -- even though it has no cream. After you have this bisque in your repertoire, you might just make it a weekly special for everyday meals. If you make it ahead, remember that chilled soups need to be seasoned right before serving, because the cold can reduce the flavors.

This very easy soup features bright yellow summer squash that resemble a zucchini in shape. You can also use other summer squashes, such as zucchini or crookneck, or even a combination of summer squashes. Look for medium-size squash; if they are very large, they might be bitter. You can check this by sauteing a slice and seeing whether it has a bitter aftertaste. Buttermilk adds a refreshing tang, and the fresh herbs complement the sweet squash flavor. If you have an herb garden, choose your favorite in-bloom herbs and decorate the soup with them.

I like to garnish a soup with a topping that has at least one of the ingredients in the soup or would be a nice complement to the existing flavors. Some delicious additions include: croutons flavored with parmesan cheese, basil or sun-dried tomato pesto, fresh tomato salsas, and garden herbs such as basil, chives, mint or parsley.


Yellow Squash Buttermilk Bisque

If desired, this soup can be used as a low-fat sauce. Place some soup in a shallow soup plate and add sliced grilled chicken or shrimp on top.

• 3 tablespoons olive oil

• 2 medium-size leeks, cleaned, and light green and white parts finely chopped

• 6 yellow summer squash, thinly sliced

• 2 cloves garlic, minced

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

• 1 tablespoon lemon juice

• 2 tablespoons finely chopped basil

• 2 tablespoon finely chopped chives

• 1 cup buttermilk

• 2 tablespoons finely shredded basil, for garnish

In a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the leeks for 5 to 7 minutes or until softened. Add the squash and saute for another 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Season with salt and pepper.

Add the stock and cook the soup, covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Process the soup with a hand blender in the pot or in the blender until pureed.

Pour into a bowl. Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 4 hours.

Right before serving, add the lemon juice, basil, chives and buttermilk. Season with salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning. Chilled soups usually need more seasoning, because the chilling process reduces the flavor. You can always add some extra liquid to re-create the proper texture and thickness.

To serve, ladle into soup bowls and garnish with shredded basil.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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