As the entire United States suffered a blanket of heat earlier this week it would have been considered cruel and unusual punishment to turn the stove on (well, besides to boil water for the iced tea supply). This didn't keep me away from the kitchen for too long - in fact, I used the heat to my advantage and indulged my inner hippie by making my very first batch of homemade yogurt.
Using the cookbook that by now has become ubiquitous in blogdom (sent to me courtesy of the kind folks at Clarkson Potter), I boiled a quart of 2% milk, cooled it to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, stirred in a few spoonfuls of the best plain yogurt in America, wrapped the bowl up in towels and placed this cumbersome package in my unlit gas stove for 20 hours. After 10 hours, I peered into the bowl, seeing nothing but a puddle of sour milk and I cursed Mitchell under my breath. But when I got up the next morning and peeled off the layers of towels, there it was! A pristine mass of white, white yogurt, delicate and delicious and warm.
I packed the yogurt into the fridge, where it firmed up and cooled off a bit. I've been spooning it up every day since then. It's quite delicious and there's something so satisfying about the ritual of making yogurt. Not to mention saving $1.19 for each little pot of Liberte (and think of all the plastic I'm not using and throwing out!). But, it has to be said, the homemade version is not as whipped and voluptuous as the store-bought stuff. And I'm a creature of habit, so I'm not sure how often I'll be making this myself, but it was fun to have tried. I also made a batch of sour cherry preserves using Kitchen Sense's recipe, but those turned out to be too sweet and runny - nothing to write home about.
If it had been just me at home this week, I would have happily eaten yogurt every night for dinner. But I had a house guest, and a hungry teenager at that. Determined to find something nourishing and delicious that wouldn't require a gas flame, I settled on Russ Parsons' chilled tomato soup that he printed to accompany an article on heirloom tomatoes two years in the LA Times. I love the idea of golden tomatoes but, until this soup, I always found them to be a bit insipid when sliced and eaten with olive oil and salt. In this soup, however, their sweet, delicate flavor really explodes.
Almost like a gazpacho, the recipe has you blend golden tomatoes and soaked bread and chopped fennel and garlic and onions with lemon juice and pimenton and olive oil and ice water until you have a thick, yellow liquid. You chill this and then serve the soup (strained, if you're fancy, but I'm not, so I didn't) topped with lemon-dressed diced fennel and minced fennel fronds. The soup and the crunchy topping are bright and cool and sweetly refreshing (and very elegant to look at), but have an earthy, spicy, faintly smoky kick that lingers in the mouth long after the last spoonful has been eaten.
Delicious, as usual, Mr. Parsons.
Golden Tomato Soup with Fennel
4 to 6 servings
2 cups ( 3/4-inch) cubes bread, crusts removed
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons chopped red onion
2 pounds golden tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fennel (about 1/2 bulb)
Lemon juice, divided
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Dash pimenton de la vera, or paprika
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin (I left this out)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided
1 cup ice water
1/2 cup finely diced fennel (about 1/2 bulb), for garnish
3 teaspoons minced fennel fronds, for garnish
1. Place the bread in a bowl and add enough water to cover. Let stand at least 30 minutes to soften. Squeeze the bread dry and put it in the blender with the garlic, onion, tomatoes and the chopped fennel. Purée until smooth. Add the juice of half a lemon, the vinegar, pimenton, cumin and 1 teaspoon of salt and purée again. With the motor running, in batches if necessary, gradually add the one-fourth cup oil and the ice water. Chill well.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the finely diced fennel and the minced fronds. Moisten with the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil and season with a couple drops of lemon juice and a sprinkling of salt.
3. Before serving, stir the purée through a fine mesh strainer if you want a perfectly smooth soup. Otherwise, whisk it to gently reincorporate anything that might have separated. Taste and add more salt if necessary. Divide evenly among 4 to 6 chilled soup bowls and garnish with 1 to 2 tablespoons of the diced fennel mixture before serving.