Tuesday Dinner: Zucchini, Corn & Basil

Zucchini, Corn & Basil Soup • Lettuces with Radishes, Cucumbers, and Green Goddess Dressing • Levain Rolls • Warm Apricot Cake with Poured Cream

Well folks, summer is officially here. School’s out, the solstice has come and gone, it’s hot as heck, and wild plums are ripening all over the Valley. We’re all learning how to negotiate this new reality, full of virus protocols and a lack of air travel. It was interesting being in a different place last week. I realized that I take for granted social rules like mask-wearing and limiting the amount of people allowed in stores; those same conventions aren’t applied in the same way everywhere. I know some of you have plans to travel this summer, and I’d really love to hear reports back of successful trips you’ve made. I’m trying to figure out where we could go that feels both safe and normal—although it seems like those two words can’t even exist in the same sentence right now.

Today’s soup is firmly anchored in my comfort zone of seasonal, vegetable-forward, California-Italian cooking. I chose to call it “zucchini, corn and basil soup,” because that sounded best, but I used four or five types of summer squash—yellow pattypan and crookneck, light green “grayzini,” the Italian variety “cocozelle” with ridges and stripes, and yellow eight-ball squash. There are two colors of corn and even two types of basil—regular Genovese basil cooked in the soup, and sprightly lemon basil mixed with cherry tomatoes for the garnish. To infuse the soup with that wonderful, sweet, summer-y corn flavor, I simmered the corn cobs in the broth before adding the rest of the ingredients, and then thickened the soup with cornmeal, a technique used in farinata, a northern Italian polenta and kale soup. The result is colorful and flavorful, and I hope it gives you a happy summer dinner moment.

Of course I love that soup, but my meal planning this week actually started with the salad. “I feel like making green goddess dressing, so I need a soup that goes with that.” When I’m cooking at my parents’ house, I walk up and down the back stairs at least ten times a day, going back and forth to the commercial fridge in the garage. There’s an herb garden at the bottom of the stairs, and whenever I see the mint and tarragon, I think about how I can use them. This week it’s tarragon’s turn; I love tarragon, so green goddess is one of my favorite salad dressings. Besides tarragon, the dressing has some of my other favorite ingredients: avocado, garlic, and anchovy. What a powerhouse combo! 

For dessert, we’ve got a warm apricot cake with cream. (Note that word “warm”—please heat your cake in the microwave or oven before pouring over the cream.) The cake is buttery and has caramel notes from brown sugar; cooking the apricots on top of the cake lets their juices reduce until the fruit is thick and jammy. The recipe is based on Jerelle Guy’s strawberry spoon cake that appeared in the New York Times last week. My dad made the strawberry cake over the weekend and it was delicious; I knew I had to try it with the gigantic pile of apricots I had. It’s a brilliant and easy cake; the only change I made (besides switching out the fruit) was to up the salt and add some nutmeg. It would be a great cake to make with kids, and you could use any kind of berry or stone fruit. I’m really missing my cooking camps this summer. This recipe would have gone on the menu for sure.

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