The best cooking is born of necessity. At least that's the case in my house. My favorite recipes always happen when I'm forced to react to a glut of something, or a shortage of something, or perhaps both.
It was a glut I was responding to on a recent weekend when I served cucumbers with one of my own salad dressing recipes at a farmers market as a way to promote my latest cookbook. I didn't come close to using all the beautiful cucumbers that market manager Robin Shuster had supplied for the occasion, so when I got home I scoured around for a new idea that would use them.
The answer was in Michele Scicolone's "The Italian Vegetable Cookbook" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014). She writes about how, one Roman summer when temperatures got stuck in the 90s for days, she survived on a soup made of little more than cucumbers, scallions, water and a little vinegar.
Removing the seeds from the cukes gives the soup a particularly pleasing texture, one that prompted Scicolone to call it "cucumber cream," even though the soup happens to be vegan.
Cold Cucumber Cream With Tomato Salsa
4 servings (makes about 4 cups)
The “cream” in the recipe’s title is a misnomer: There’s no dairy in this simple, wonderfully refreshing cold soup. But the cucumber does lend an almost creamy mouth feel. The salsa adds crunch and a punch of flavor against the cool mildness of the soup. The soup needs to chill for about 2 hours before serving. It can be refrigerated for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 6 months. Adapted from “The Italian Vegetable Cookbook,” by Michele Scicolone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).
2½ pounds cucumbers (6 to 8 large or 16 to 20 Kirbys), peeled
3 scallions, trimmed
1½ cups water
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar, plus more as needed
½ teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
1 medium tomato
1 tablespoon shredded fresh basil
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Cut the cucumbers in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out/discard the seeds.
Cut enough of the cucumbers into ½-inch dice to yield ½ cup. Cover and refrigerate it for the salsa.
Cut the remaining cucumbers into 1-inch chunks. Chop 2 of the scallions.
Combine the larger cucumber chunks, chopped scallions, water, vinegar, ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper in a food processor or blender; puree until smooth. Taste, and add vinegar, salt and/or pepper as needed. Pour into an airtight container and refrigerate until cold, about 2 hours.
Just before serving, cut the tomato in half through the stem end. Discard the core and squeeze the halves to discard some of the gel/seeds and juice. Cut the remaining tomato into ½-inch dice; transfer to a small bowl.
Thinly slice the remaining scallion and add to the bowl, along with the reserved, diced cucumber and the basil. Toss with the oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Taste the soup again for seasoning (it will be more muted when cold), and add vinegar, salt or pepper as needed. Divide among chilled bowls, top each portion with some of the salsa, and serve.
Per serving: 70 calories, 2 g protein, 8 g carbohydrates, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 340 mg sodium, 3 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar