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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

A soup and salad that beat the heat


A chilled avocado soup. This chilled avocado soup flavored with tart yogurt can be spooned or sipped.

By David Tanis


This August menu is essentially designed for beating the heat on seriously sweltering summer days, when ice-cold everything seems appropriate. We’re on the right track, I think, with a chilled soup, followed by a room-temperature vegetable salad and a dessert straight from the refrigerator.


The avocado soup — a cool, savory smoothie of avocado, lime juice, yogurt and olive oil — couldn’t be easier: Everything goes in the blender, swirled to a silky purée. I like to keep a jug in the fridge, ready to pour into chilled bowls or glasses, so it’s well worth the 15-minute investment.


Many know the picnic-standard three bean salad, made from three cans of beans (kidney, garbanzo and string), a sliced onion and cider vinegar. I like that, too, but here I’m proposing a different sort of bean salad, the kind you can make only in late summer when all of the great fresh beans are available.


Right now, at the market, you’ll probably find fresh shelling beans piled high in their pods. Grab a few pounds and shuck them, then simmer them for the best-tasting, creamiest beans imaginable. While you’re at it, scout the market for ribbonlike Romano beans, also called runner beans or flat beans. They have extraordinary texture and flavor when cooked. Then you’ll need some tender green beans, which can sometimes be a problem. Look for the smallest ones.


Cooked to perfection, these seasonal treats need only a zesty vinaigrette. I’d be perfectly happy with only dressed beans. But to make the salad more substantial, I added halved fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes and boiled eggs. Arranged on a platter with arugula and basil, it’s the very picture of a summery dinner salad. For me, the beans are the stars, though for all intents and purposes, this is a vegetable version of salade niçoise. Adding good canned tuna, olives or anchovy fillets, or a dab of aioli would not be out of line.


“Icebox cake” is fun to say, even if no one has an icebox anymore. It’s usually a combination of cake or cookies and whipped cream, meant to get good and soggy, and served cold. I modeled mine after tiramisù and filled it with Italian ladyfingers (savoiardi). They’re available in supermarkets and Italian food shops, and are a lifesaver if you ever need to put together an easy dessert. Layered with sliced juicy nectarines, raspberries and an almond-scented cream, the cake is ready after a few hours of chilling.


Prepare the cake in the afternoon or a day in advance, and serve it as a welcome cooling dessert after this relatively light meal. But it may best as a snack from the fridge at midnight, after a bout of tossing and turning, because it’s too hot to sleep.


Chilled avocado soup


This chilled soup couldn’t be easier to make, packing a lot of flavor into a quick dish of just a few ingredients. Fresh, green and somewhat tart, it’s quite refreshing on a warm day.



Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 15 minutes



Ingredients:


2 large ripe avocados, halved and pitted

1 1/2 cups plain (not Greek) yogurt

1/4 cup lime juice

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper

1 small bunch cilantro or parsley, leaves and tender stems

A few slices of jalapeño



Preparation:


1. Put 1 cup water, the avocados, yogurt, lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, cilantro (or parsley) and jalapeño in a blender. Purée until smooth. Taste for seasoning and chill well.

2. Before ready to serve, thin with more water to taste (thicker for soup, thinner to drink).

3. Pour into chilled soup bowls for a sit-down first course, or into shot glasses for a stand-up appetizer.


Summer vegetable niçoise salad


You’ll find the green beans, wax beans, Romano beans and fresh shelling beans for this salad at the farmers’ market, making it perfect for a summer lunch or supper. With sweet cherry tomatoes and fingerling potatoes, it makes a substantial meal. Add good canned tuna, black olives or anchovy fillets too, if you wish.



Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes



Ingredients:


For the Vinaigrette:

1 small shallot, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and black pepper


For the Salad:

1 pound small round potatoes or fingerlings

Salt and black pepper

6 eggs

3 cups shucked fresh shelling beans, such as cranberry beans (about 3 pounds of pods), or use 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini or cranberry beans, drained and rinsed

1 pound green beans, preferably a mix of green beans, yellow wax beans and flat Romano beans

1 pound cherry tomatoes, halved

5 ounces arugula

1 handful basil leaves, for garnish

1 (6- to 8-ounce) can tuna, preferably ventresca (optional)

Aioli, for serving



Preparation:


1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, put shallot, garlic and vinegar. Whisk in olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Cook potatoes: Place potatoes in a medium pot over high heat, cover with water and add a good pinch of salt. Boil for about 15 minutes, until tender. Let cool, then cut in half.

3. Cook eggs: In the same pot, boil the eggs until runny in the center, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with ice water to cool. Peel and halve them while the beans cook.

4. Cook fresh shelling beans: Place in a small saucepan and cover with 2 inches of water. Add a pinch of salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn heat down to low and simmer until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Let the beans cool in their own broth. (If using canned beans, skip this step.)

5. Blanch the green beans: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add green beans and cook till just done, about 3 minutes. Remove from water and spread out on a baking sheet or platter to cool. Repeat with wax beans and Romano beans, if using.

6. Assemble the salad: Place drained shelling beans, green beans, potatoes and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl or serving platter. Season everything with salt and pepper, then toss gently, using your hands. Pour the vinaigrette over, then toss gently, again using your hands.

7. Place egg halves over the vegetables, surround with arugula and scatter basil leaves over the top. Top with tuna, if using. Pass a bowl of aioli, if desired.


Raspberry-nectarine icebox cake


Chilled, creamy and not too sweet, this simple, no-bake icebox cake is a perfect dessert. In truth, it’s even a bit like tiramisù, but with ripe summer fruit. Store-bought ladyfingers make it easy; shop at the farmers’ market for the best fruit. Make it a few hours or even a day in advance of serving for effortless entertaining.



Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Total time: 35 minutes, plus overnight chilling



Ingredients:


3/4 cup dry white wine or rosé

1/4 cup light brown sugar

2 whole cloves

1 tablespoon rum or brandy (optional)

2 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled

2 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract

2 (4.5-ounce) box ladyfingers (about 28 ladyfingers)

6 nectarines (about 2 pounds), pitted and cut in 1/2-inch slices

1/2 pint raspberries

Crumbled amaretti cookies, for topping



Preparation:


1. Make the syrup: In a small saucepan, combine the wine, brown sugar and cloves. Simmer over medium heat, stirring, just to dissolve sugar, a few minutes. Turn off heat, and add rum or brandy, if using. Set aside, off the heat, to cool.

2. Put cream and powdered sugar in a clean bowl and, using a stand mixer, hand mixer or whisk, whip to very soft peaks — not too stiff. Stir in almond extract.

3. Build the cake: One at time — they’ll be too soggy otherwise — quickly dip one side of each ladyfinger in the syrup, and place in a 9-inch square baking dish with 2-inch sides (or something similar, doesn’t have to be ovenproof). Repeat until the bottom of the pan is lined with syrup-dipped ladyfingers.

4. Dollop about a quarter of the whipped cream all over the ladyfingers, then spread with a spatula. Scatter half of the sliced nectarines, then half of the raspberries, over the cream.

5. Dip the remaining ladyfingers, one at a time, into the syrup, and layer them over the fruit. Spread another quarter of the whipped cream, then scatter the remaining nectarine slices and raspberries over.

6. Top with the remaining whipped cream and spread to your liking.

7. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours, and preferably overnight. (Cover lightly with wax paper, if you like.) Before serving, sprinkle with amaretti. The cake may be cut into squares, or simply scooped out with a big spoon.

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