Tomato Watermelon Gazpacho

Another fresh and vibrant cold soup for those end of summer tomatoes. A Vitamix or other high powered blender is useful for this recipe — add all of the ingredients and blend for a minute or two. If you like more of a kick, feel free to add a teaspoon of jalapeño or serrano pepper to the blender. After blending, chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving so that it’s nice and cold. The flavor is even better the next day! The recipe below serves at least 4.

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Recipe

4 large ripe tomatoes
1-1/2 c. seedless watermelon, chopped (+ a few tablespoons reserved for garnish)
2 slices of day old French baguette, roughly chopped
2 small Persian cucumbers*
1/4 c. red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1-1/2 tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 c. olive oil
1/2 avocado, chopped (for garnish)

Put all of the ingredients, except for the avocado, in a high speed blender (Vitamix) and blend until smooth. Transfer to a covered bowl and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour. To serve garnish with chopped watermelon, chopped avocado, a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper, and a drizzle of good quality olive oil.

*Persian cucumbers have a thin skin and do not require peeling. I get mine at Trader Joe’s. Otherwise, you can use an English cucumber which also doesn’t require peeling.

– inspired by a New York Times recipe by Melissa Clark

White Gazpacho with Cucumber and Grapes

With the string of seemingly unending 90-degree days we've had lately, it's good to have a refreshing, chilled soup! This white gazpacho makes a wonderful first course, followed by a colorful Salad Nicoise. If you have a Vitamix or other high speed blender, it makes preparing this recipe a breeze. A garnish of toasted, sliced almonds and halved grapes, with a drizzle of good olive oil makes you look like a rock star!

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Recipe

1-1/2 lbs. Persian cucumbers, ends trimmed and sliced
1/4 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 clove garlic, pressed
1-1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. serrano chile, chopped (taste first for heat, then adjust as you desire)
3 T. olive oil
1 lb. seedless green grapes (reserve a few for garnish)
8 oz. Greek-style plain yogurt
freshly ground pepper
Sliced, toasted almonds for garnish (optional)

Put the cucumbers, lemon juice, garlic, salt, serrano chile, olive oil, and grapes in your Vitamix and puree until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and whisk in the yogurt and add a few grinds of black pepper. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 5 or 6 hours. Serve garnished with a few sliced grapes, sliced toasted almonds, and a drizzle of good quality olive oil. Serves 6.

– Anna Thomas, "Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore"

Cioppino

Cioppino is such a versatile dish – you can add any type of seafood that you wish (as long as it's fairly firm, like scallops, salmon, halibut, grouper, haddock – and shellfish). The sauce has a great depth of flavor but doesn't overpower the fish. It's a perfect main course for weekend company. You can make the stew (minus the seafood) up to two days ahead, bring to a simmer and add the fish as noted below. Be sure to use a big pot!

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Recipe

3 T. olive oil
1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 onion, chopped
3 large shallots, chopped
2 tsp. salt
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
2 T. tomato paste
1 tsp. smoked paprika
(1) 28-oz. can diced tomatoes in juice
1-1/2 c. dry white wine
32 oz. fish stock
7 sprigs fresh thyme, tied in a little bundle
1 bay leaf
1 lb. clams, scrubbed
1 lb. mussels, scrubbed, debearded
1 lb. uncooked large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1-1/2 lbs. assorted firm-fleshed fish (I used salmon, scallops and halibut)
1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
1 lemon (2 tsp. grated zest, the rest cut into wedges)
hearty Italian gluten free bread for dipping

Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the fennel, onion, shallots and salt and saute until the onion is translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and saute 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and paprika until everything is coated. Add the tomatoes with their juices, wine, fish stock, bay leaf and thyme. Cover and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer about 30 minutes.

Remove the thyme. Add the clams and mussels, cover and cook about 5 minutes, until the clams and mussels begin to open. Add the shrimp and fish. Simmer gently, uncovered, until the fish is just cooked through and the clams are completely open, stirring gently, about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the lemon zest. Season to taste with more salt and red pepper flakes if needed. Ladle into bowls and garnish with parsley and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Lima Bean Ragout

Another satisfying, simple, delicious recipe from Jacques Pépin's new cookbook, "Heart & Soul in the Kitchen." I was skeptical that no spices were used except for salt. I don't know why I doubted the Master because every Jacques recipe I make is superb. This one is no exception. Serve on its own with a crusty piece of French bread to mop up the sauce, or with meats or fish. Serves 8.

Recipe

1 pound dried baby lima beans
1 bouillon cube (chicken or veg)
6 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. leeks, including greens, 1-inch slices
1 c. peeled carrot, 1-inch slices
2 c. chopped onion (1-inch pieces)
1 c. celery, 1-inch slices
1 c. fennel stalks and fronds, 1-inch pieces
1/2 c. salsa

Rinse the beans under cold water, drain, and add to large stock pot. Add the bouillon cube, water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to lower, cover, and cook for 1 hour.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered, for another hour. Eat!

– Jacques Pépin, "Heart & Soul in the Kitchen"

Chicken Bouillabaisse with Rouille

A quick, hearty, satisfying meal for those chilly, windy almost-Winter days. You really don't need to serve this with anything else – it's a meal in itself. I didn't have chicken thighs so I substituted three chicken breasts and marinated in the fridge for about 3 hours (can be marinated up to 8 hours). Serves 4.

Recipe

4 large skinless chicken thighs (about 1-3/4 lbs.)
1 T. olive oil
1/2 c. coarsely chopped onion
1 rib of chopped celery
1 coarsely chopped carrot
1 T. coarsely chopped garlic
1 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp. saffron
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1/4 tsp. herbes de Provence
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
(1) 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2 c. dry white wine
3/4 c. chicken broth (or water)
5 red or yellow Yukon Gold potatoes (about 3/4 lb. total), peeled and cut into 4 pieces each
1 kielbasa sausage (about 10 oz.), cut into 2" pieces
2 T. chopped tarragon (or parsley or chives)
Splash (2 tsp.) of Pernod (an anise flavored liqueur) *optional

ROUILLE
1/4 c. liquid from the soup
1/2 of one of the cooked potatoes in the stew
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 egg yolk
1/2 c. olive oil
Dash of salt, if needed

FOR THE BOUILLABAISSE:
In a large bowl combine the olive oil with the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, lemon zest, saffron, fennel seeds and herbes de Provence. Season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken, toss to coat and let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Or marinate in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours.

When ready to cook, put the chicken and marinade ingredients in a Dutch oven or stainless steel pot and add the tomatoes, wine, chicken broth (or water) and potatoes. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer gently until the potatoes are half cooked, about 25 minutes. Add the kielbasa and tarragon (and the Pernod if using) and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes longer.

FOR THE ROUILLE:
Transfer half of a cooked potato half to a food processor along with 1/4 c. of the cooking liquid from the stew. Add the garlic, paprika and cayenne and process for 10 seconds. Add the egg yolk. Then, with the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until smooth and creamy. Taste and season with salt if needed.

Serve the bouillabaisse in shallow bowls with a few spoonfuls of the rouille drizzled on top.

– Jacques Pépin, "Fast Food My Way"

Mushroom Velouté

The nights are longer, the weather is crisp and rainy − time for soup. This creamy mushroom soup is quick and easy, a perfect first course to a hearty beef stew. It's worth finding dried wood ear mushrooms (also known as tree ear or cloud ear) for a garnish. I found a 3-oz. package of dried cloud ear mushrooms at a Mediterranean market. Use 1 or 2 of the larger pieces as they really expand when simmered in the soup.

Recipe

2 T. butter
1 c. sliced shallots
1 T. very thinly sliced garlic (or use a vegetable peeler)
1-1/2 T. flour
4 c. chicken stock, heated
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 pound button mushrooms, washed and coarsely chopped
1-2 pieces dried cloud ear mushroom
1/3 c. sliced almonds, toasted for a few minutes on top of the stove or in the oven until lightly browned
1 c. half 'n half

Heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and add the shallots and garlic. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until softened. Add the flour and stir well for about a minute, then stir in the hot stock, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil.

Add the mushrooms to the stock with a few pieces of the dried cloud ear mushroom. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. After about ten minutes, remove the cloud ear mushroom, let it cool, then slice in strips to use as a garnish when the soup is done.

When the soup is done, use an immersion blender to puree the soup to a creamy consistency. You can make the soup ahead at this point. When ready to serve, heat the soup, add the half 'n half, stir, and bring back to a boil. Take off the heat and ladle into bowls. Garnish with some of the cloud ear mushroom strips and sliced almonds on top.

– Jacques Pépin, "Fast Food My Way"