Dog Days, Green Leaves, and Melon Soup
Summer heat comes in sheer waves across the French land and the siesta curtains are kept drawn late into the early evening here at Camont. After a week of doggedly following the weather patterns, it’s clear that the canicule returns to the Southwest. Canicule refers to those hottest days of the season, originally when the brightest star Sirius rose in the mid-Summer sky, announcing extreme heat, thunderstorms and other exciting weather. This searing bright beacon sits on the tip of Canis Major’s nose and chases Lepus, the Hare, across the sky.
As these hot days hit again, my pup Chica is more likely to be chasing Terra the cat across the garden while I take my first coffee in the cool early morning, before the heat has time to accumulate. The garden needs water and just in time the new pump for the garden well decided to work. I am here on my computer writing about summer days and food, reminiscing over other summers and looking for inspiration. Cooking seems unnecessary while eating doesn’t. Last night I settled for a bag of mediocre tortilla chips and a beer. I know that won’t last. I crave real food and will hit the kitchen as soon as these words are posted.
Summer food means something foraged from the kitchen garden, literally short steps from the door. A couple bright yellow summer squash, some thinning beet greens, a few pinches of cilantro going to seed in the shade of the vigorous tomato plants. It doesn’t take much, a few eggs scrambled into an omelette or a Spanish potato tortilla. I’ll also cook a Gascon burger on the grill when friends come over or we’ll wrap some fish (sardines, mackerel, tuna) in fig leaves.
The sides are easy- some potato salad of some sort, some greens with a sharp mustardy vinaigrette, and and a platter of thick sliced red coeur de boeuf tomato slices swimming in vinegar and oil, salted and peppered. Baguettes are passed and torn for dipping in the tomato juice vinaigrette.
Summer food can also mean cold—a perfectly ripe melon turned into soup and garnished with a generous drizzle of fruity olive oil, orange zest and salt; tomatoey gazpacho brightened with lime and hot peppers; and ice cream, of course! I’ve been lax on my ice cream making skills and will remedy that as the days get hotter; the Teaching Kitchen studio is the only place with air conditioning now. I am thinking about those fragrant fig leaves, some dark chocolate, toasting some almonds I brought back from Spain. Fig leaf, chocolate shards, and salted almonds ice cream anyone?
See how easy that is? I hope this gives you a bit of inspiration and way of thinking about cooking in the Summer. Treat it lightly and enjoy these dog days. There’ll be time enough to make Cassoulet when Orion come across. In the meantime, here’s a little Melon and Lemon Verbena Soup to keep you cool. These fabulous melons are grown on the fertile clay fields surrounding Nerac and the local producer’s markets are full of them. Learn to pick a ripe one by looking at the stem. It should just be pulling away from the crown of the melon. Make this soup to take on a picnic. Drink it from little antique crystal glasses you buy at a flea market. Keep it cold in a thermos for a road trip.
Original Recipe from A Culinary Journey in Gascony Kate Hill. This is an updated non-cook version 2019.
French Melon and Lemon Verbena Cold Soup
French melon (these are called Cavaillion, de Letoure, Neracaise, etc depending where they are grown). One very ripe, peeled, seeded and cubed.
cucumber- one medium sized, peeled, seeded if needed, and chopped
onion- fresh white raw onion peeled and chopped
lemon verbena- one sprig with several leaves of fresh or a few dried leaves
cold water- about 500 ml or 2 cups or water glasses
Olive oil- a few tablespoons or use other fresh and fragrant cold pressed oils (sunflower, safflower, pumpkin seed)
salt and pepper- to taste
Place the cubed melon, cucumber and onion in a blender. add enough cold water to make one liter or one quart. Liquify the mixture until all is smooth. Add the olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. pour into a jar and add the lemon verbena. Let steep a few hours or overnight; then remove leaves before serving, Adjust the seasoning and garnish with fresh lemon verbena leaves. Serve very cold.
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