Saturday, July 3, 2010

Red, White and Blue Soup

While everyone is firing up the grill for the Fourth, Souperlatif is in the kitchen whipping up dessert soups: a great idea to bring along to the Fireworks; one, a spiced blue blueberry potion travels hot in the thermos for a warmer-upper, and a chilled red berry creamy soup for a warmer weather cooler.

Fruit soups are ever popular in Europe, either for dessert, or sometimes as breakfast for the kids. Thinking "blue" for the red, white and blue, I remembered a hot fruit soup they have in Sweden (and if you live near an IKEA, you can even get it local!). The Swedes call it blåbärsoppa, soup of the bilberry (not exactly our American blueberry, but close in appearance and taste), and the spiced quaff is often served to skiers just in from a run, as a warm- up beverage. In summer, they drink it cold, and the bit of corn or potato starch makes it wholesomely thick.

For my red soup I needed only a fresh idea for red berries - not a smoothy kind of thing, and not cloyingly sweet red pudding either. I experimented and came up with a lovely pale red straw-raspberry soup, flavored with lemon grass, vanilla and a spike of ice wine (a moscato would also do.) The lemongrass is softer than lemon peel and is becoming my favorite way to add a little lemon to a dish, especially that it is now so easy to find.

Both these fruit soups are definitely not just pureed fresh fruit - they are, as soups should be, a blend of flavors that can only be achieved through cooking. But both are only gently cooked, and thereby avoid the scorched taste of stewed fruit preparations.

For a true white soup, I just plain ran out of time! A dollop of cream as garnish will have to do (and not bad, at that). So on with the Red, (White) and Blue.

The Straw-Raspberry Soup

2 quarts cut up stawberries and raspberries
1/2 vanilla bean
2 stalks of lemon grass, each snipped into 4" lengths
1/4 cup or less brown sugar
1/4 cup ice wine
1/4 cup creme fraiche

Place berries, lemongrass, vanilla bean and sugar in a saucepan and allow the sugar to draw out some of the juices - 30 minutes to an hour. Bring to a boil and gently simmer until the strawberries are soft. Remove the vanilla bean and the pieces of lemongrass. Stir in the sweet wine and cook just until the alcohol is burned off. Remove from the heat and puree using an immersion blender. Heat the creme fraiche in the microwave (15 seconds) and fold into the soup. Test the consistency: you may add a little water or more a splash of wine to thin out a too thick puree. Serve lemon peel curls and/or a decorative basil leaf.

For the Blueberry Soup (Blåbärsoppa)

6 cups blueberries*
3 cardamon pods
1 cinnamon stick
zest of small lemon
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup apple juice
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons corn starch
for garnish:
1 cup whipping cream and
1/2 cup creme fraiche

Bring the blueberries, sugar, spices, lemon zest and apple juice to a boil and simmer until the fresh berries have popped, the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is fragrant and bubbly - 5 minutes. Strain through the fine mesh screen of a food mill - a food mill will trap more of the tiny seeds from the blueberries than a blender - and return the liquidy puree to the saucepan. In a separate cup, dissolve the corn starch in the cup of water. Over medium heat, add the corn starch mixture into the blueberry puree and continue cooking until the broth begins to thicken - this occurs just as it comes to a boil. Remove immediately, cool, and chill at least 5 hours at least 4 hours if serving cold. For warm soup, heat gently to a sip-able warmth, not hot. Serve either the hot or cold with a dollop of whipped cream. An especially nice touch is a mix of whipped cream and creme fraiche: whip 1 cup of cream and fold in 1/2 cup of creme fraiche, then whip together until cream peaks.

* I like to add at least a cup of thawed frozen berries as part of the 6 cups. The frozen are usually darker and add a deeper flavor as well - more like the actual bilberries.

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