(Recipe at end of post!)
Vichyssoise. Pronounced vih-she-swaz. 'Thought I'd help you with that one because those French words trip me up sometimes. Just when you think you're not supposed to pronounce the S's, here comes vichyssoise. I know it sounds pretentious and some might be turned off because it rhymes with 'fishy,' but I'm telling you -- it's just simple and good. Perfect for warm weather. Which we've been experiencing quite a lot in NYC.
(Photo: James Estrin/The New York Times)I took Jef out for a dazzling dinner to celebrate him quitting the corporate hustle (as much hustle as there is in book publishing, anyway -- check out the page he created) and forging forward on his own as a web design guru. Taking advantage of NYC's Restaurant Week (extended through Sep.1 - reserve now through this link), I opted for Cafe d'Alsace, which boasts one of the finest beer selections in the city, even by Frank Bruni's standards. (It often seems Web designers and choice beer go hand in hand.) The beer met all expectations, but the meal was just OK. Why a French restaurant would serve fish cooked in a weak Asian preparation is beyond me. Standard creme brulee and decent cheesecake. But the appetizer stood out. Yes, it came only at the beginning of the meal, but at least our vichyssoise offered some razzle and dazzle.
I wasn't even a week into my braces ordeal so you know I was going for the cold soup appetizer over the leeks vinaigrette. Stringy leeks meet wire and metal? Doesn't sound pretty. I think Jef may have been turned off by the name (I can hear it in his mind, 'fishy-what?'), but when I told him it was a pureed potato and leek soup, served cold, he looked a little less frightened. The soup was creamy, but not heavy; heady and salty, but not over-seasoned; a fine mingling of fresh and comforting flavors. And refreshingly different, as cold soups often are.
The following day I found a recipe on Epicurious: Zucchini and Saffron Vichyssoise with Scallops. Mmm hm. You heard right. This sounded perfect to me -- our summer's bounty of zucchini in place of spring's leeks. Not to mention I love any recipe calling for my extra-special saffron given as a gift from Jef's mom!
I suggested this recipe to Gil for our weekly Jac and Gil meal, and to my sheer delight, she agreed -- even to trying the scallop! I was dizzy with excitement, then even dizzier after buying 2 sea scallops for a whopping $9.17! (Don't judge me, Mom and Dad, if you're reading this.) I mean, they were 2 of the biggest scallops I'd ever seen, but still!
However, knowing that Gil was open to trying something she normally doesn't eat, I decided it was worth it. And I'll admit it, I really wanted that succulent scallop.
You know, this recipe wasn't just simple and good; it was fun. We chopped up the veggies and simmered everything together. You won't believe how amazing this smells. (I have to take partial credit for this as I swapped in fresh tarragon instead of the thyme that the recipe had called for. The tarragon in Cafe d'Alsace's vichysoisse just made it for me.) Then, using an immersion blender, we pureed the soup right in the pot. Love this. Fun, right?
Meanwhile, we used a mandoline to thinly slice the zucchini and cut it into julienne. Left that pile on the counter and the pureed soup chilling in the fridge while we went to yoga class. Could this recipe have been more perfect?
Back from yoga, all bendy and relaxed, we tossed the zucchini ribbons in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes, drained, dried, and seasoned well, and then carefully piled it on our individual bowls of chilled vichyssoise. Seared the scallops ('Lots of butter,' Gil said), and placed on top, with a spring of tarragon to finish it off.
Zucchini, Tarragon, and Saffron Vichysoisse with Seared Scallop
adapted from Epicurious
Serves 3 hungry gals (you think you can save some for lunch the next day, but you end up gobbling up
seconds and maybe thirds)
3 medium-size zucchini*
1 medium onion*, chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 lb Yukon Gold potatoes*
1 teaspoon chopped garlic*
1/4 teaspoon finely crumbled saffron threads
5 cups vegetable broth
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon* leaves
1/2 cup chilled half and half
2 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 large sea scallops
1 tablespoon butter, or more as needed
*Procure from your local farmers' market, if at all possible
Special equipment: mandoline, immersion blender
Thinly (and carefully!) slice zucchini lengthwise on mandoline, trying to work
around the seedy core, but it doesn't matter too much. Do the best you can
without endangering yourself on sharp mandoline and just be sure to leave
some zucchini to dice and add to your soup. Slice the flat zucchini pieces into
Use it instead of that 2-part thing we did. You might not have as much fun,
Peel potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Cook onion in 3 tablespoons butter
in a large heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened,
about 8 minutes. Add potatoes, garlic, and saffron and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Add broth, bay leaf, and tarragon and simmer, uncovered, until potatoes are
tender, about 20 minutes. Add diced zucchini and simmer, uncovered, until
zucchini is very tender, about 8 minutes.
Let soup cool slightly and use immersion blender to puree in the pot until very
smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Stir in half and half, lemon
juice, salt, and pepper, and taste. Add a little of what you think it needs, but
proceed to next steps before adding too much additional seasoning. Cool to
room temperature, uncovered. Chill soup, covered, until cold, at least 4 hours
and up to 2 days. Or for about an hour and forty-five minutes while you go to
Cook julienned zucchini in boiling salted water, until crisp-tender, about 1
minute, then drain and transfer to a bowl of ice and cold water. Drain and
pat dry with paper towels. Season with salt and pepper and chill, covered.
Cut each scallop horizontally into 3 rounds and pat dry. Heat 1 tablespoon (or
more) butter in a large nonstick skillet over high heat until hot but not smoking,
then sear scallops until golden brown, 20 to 30 seconds on each side, and season
with salt and pepper.
Serve soup with zucchini mounded in center, topped with scallop rounds.