Sunday, February 3, 2008

Zucchini soup with dumplings

Of the four seasons, summer, that bountiful, buxom beauty, is the one I secretly dread. The produce of summer is spectacular, a dream for cooks who revel in the pleasures of vegetable cookery; rather what I dread is the obligatory simmering heat, the unspeakably long hot days that render you listless, indifferent. Worse still are the ones that throw a dry northerly wind into the mix. The entire city becomes a giant hairdryer. Strangely, those days seem to have bypassed us. A few wildly out of kilter days aside, it’s been a remarkably gentle January.

Evenings stretch into night, the sun setting softly on the rooftops, old and new, in the neighbourhood. Somewhere between eight and half past, for the briefest of moments, the sky blazes pink, orange and blue, chalky strokes of pale colour heightened by the sinking sun. Nigh impossible to capture, though not for want of trying. The temperature drops, then gooseflesh sends you indoors digging deeply into the trunk at the end of the bed for something warmer, through things you’d put away months ago. Autumnal weather, this, delightful but disarming. All the ‘proof’, perhaps, that now rare creature, the Climate Change Skeptic, may require.

The garden heaves an almost audible sigh of relief in these cooler days. What’s left of the garden I should say; little survived the furnace-like heat of late December and early January. What did make it through unscathed confirmed, once again, that what thrives here is what thrives along the sandy shores of the Mediterranean. Tomatoes seem to love those searing, waterless days. The wild rocket, slow to start, continues to astound with its lush green growth. The basil, too. And finally, as of this week, the zucchini have begun to blossom, their pretty saffron faces nodding on the morning breeze. Zucchini, small and crisp, are a seasonal treat, especially at this early stage of the proceedings. Too few to make a meal of yet, but the beginnings of a crop to be sure.

Armed with a punnet of tiny, creamy fleshed zucchini, and a hankering for something substantial but light and summery, this is inspired (yet again) by Deborah Madison. It’s brilliant, multi-layered and satisfying, but light-as-a-feather. The broth is unlike any other I've met; restorative and rich like the chicken stock I fondly remember, but made without an ounce fat. None at all. Like most of these things, it will take a few hours, intermittently, of your time to prepare and mere moments to be devoured in quiet, but grateful, slurping spoonfuls. Silence is, after all, quite the complement itself. And it’s a perfect soup for weather that can’t quite make up its mind.

Zucchini in broth with corn and cheese dumplings – for 4-6

The broth takes two hours to simmer. I know that seems like a lot, but it’s got to develop deep flavours, you see, if it’s to hold its own in the same way as, say, a clear broth of chicken or beef would. And hold its own this broth does. My word.

First, make the broth:

Pour 3 litres (approx 3 quarts) of water into a large saucepan. Toss in 1 large onion, sliced, 1 large zucchini, sliced, a 400g (15oz) tin of tomatoes, 6 cloves of garlic, bashed with the flat of your knife, 1 large carrot, sliced, 3 stalks of celery, sliced, 1 bunch of coriander (cilantro), roots and all, 1 small bunch of parsley, a handful of green or brown lentils, ½ a green chilli, a pinch of fennel seeds, a few sprigs of fresh oregano (if you have it – it’s optional here), 2 teaspoons of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of peppercorns, lightly crushed. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer, partially covered with a lid for 2 hours. Strain and set aside.

To make the dumplings:

½ cup of fine cornmeal (Masa Harina preferably) – NOT polenta
½ cup plain flour
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of chilli powder
Good pinch of sea salt
½ cup of crumbled feta or grated cheddar
1 egg
2 tablespoons of olive oil + extra for frying
1/3 cup of water or milk

Make these while the broth is simmering. Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl. Beat the wet ingredients in a small bowl and then tip into the dry. Bring together with a fork, then use your hands to form a solid mass. Break off small pieces of dough and roll into balls the size of a marble.

Heat ½ cm (¼ inch) of the extra olive oil in a large frying pan. When the oil is hot, drop in the dumplings, turning with two forks until golden all over. Remove to a rack set over some kitchen paper and leave to cool.

The soup:

Broth, from above
Dumplings, from above
1 punnet of baby zucchini or 2 medium-sized zucchini, thinly sliced
½ bunch of spring onions, thinly sliced with most of their greens
1 bunch of coriander (cilantro) leaves, roughly chopped
1 small green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 tablespoon of olive oil
Sea salt
3 ripe tomatoes, diced
1 avocado, peeled and diced
Lime wedges, to serve

Bring the broth to a simmer. Drop in the zucchini and the spring onions and cook for 5 minutes. Mix the coriander with the chilli and oil, seasoning with a little salt.

Drop the dumplings into the soup and simmer for 5 minutes longer. Divide the tomatoes between serving bowls, spoon the vegetables and dumplings on top and ladle over the broth. Add a spoonful of the coriander mixture to each bowl, a cluster of avocado and serve immediately with lime wedges.

This is my submission to Lisa of Lisa’s Kitchen, who is hosting the inaugural edition of a monthly, vegetarian event both she and Holler of Tinned Tomatoes will be hosting, called No Croutons Required. This month’s theme is soup.


Holler said...

Thanks for contributing to our first event, Lucy! That soup looks like it it teaming over with fresh summer flavours. Beautiiful photos too, I love the napkin shot!

Anh said...

Lovely! I am yet to make a proper veg broth. But I know for sure it tastes really nice. And those zucchini, how much I love them!

kathryn said...

Oh my Lucy, this looks BEAUTIFUL. And perfect for this weather. I've come back to Sydney to be greeted by rain and humidity, and yet it's also slightly cold. Strange indeed.

Your soup is perfect.

Truffle said...

Oh my. Lucy this is absolutely beautiful! I don't know how you do it but this sounds exceptionally good!

Johanna said...

That soup looks wonderful - I keep thinking about making stock but 2 hours seems quite a commitment - am sure it is worthwhile. But it looks quite summery despite simmer stock and dumplings - that is an achievement.

Came home today and read your post and thought today was a hairdryer day! It has been a weird summer but I expect the hot weather to hit sometime - probably while I am away and my potplants are vulnerable!

Wendy said...

Wow! I'm bowled over by this. It sounds divine and I never thought I'd ever call any kind of courgette soup even "nice" again. Roll on summer!

Emiline said...

The soup looks colorful.
I think what really makes this recipe unique is the dumplings.

Suganya said...

The colours and texture in the third photo is amazing. Dumplings in every spoon, I am so making this soup.

Ricki said...

I could eat that soup photo! Stunning.
And since it's actually cold and wintery over here, soup is perfect! Love the dumpling idea as well. (Though it seems a shame to waste all those veggies from the broth--maybe they could be baked into something else?).

winedeb said...

Ah Lucy, nothing like a good simmering pot of soup in the house. I like long simmering soups as they make the house smell like home! What a great submission for the new event. I am pondering what to make myself. I really enjoy your photo of the raw veggies, the colors are so soothing! Summer bounty...not only the beautiful colors of your veggies, just look at the colors of your sunset! Mother Nature handing you all kinds of goodies!

Nora B. said...

My eyes are always happy to peruse your photos - beautiful! You always manage to capture not the the beautiful colours but also the essence of the ingredients, so it speaks volumes.

And the flavours in this soup would be delicious. My partner thinks that zucchini is very bland but I think he will change his mind with this soup.


Callipygia said...

There are a lot of pretty participants in this stock, no doubt beautifully flavored. As for the strangeness of the weather, it is quite hard not to take stock of all those little changes... and feel like things are getting stirred up.

Lisa said...


Stunning, just as I expect from you. The dumplings I want right now. Cornmeal and feta - oh my! Thanks so much for your entry.

Christina said...

Oh wow, the weather sounds so beautiful right now. You must be loving it.

I love the idea of the corn dumplings here--which do you prefer, the cheddar or the feta with the soup? Feta seems like a natural match with zucchini, but cheddar and corn go so well together. Hmmm. I curious to hear what you think about the cheese issue.

Have a wonderful day!

Simona said...

I am a big fan of Deborah Madison myself. I love the photos, especially the middle one.

Warda said...

Oh Lucy! reading you is like reading poetry! I found myself, through your lines, transported to your garden, your seasons, your life. What a wonderful Artist you are!
And thank you for this vegetables broth recipe. It's still chilly where I am and a soup is more than welcome thes days.
Happy Wednesday!

Lucy said...

Holler - what a great event you guys are hosting. Can't wait to see all the entries.

Anh it's actually quite difficult to make a clear veg broth that sings - and Lord knows, I've tried - but this one actually has the deep flavours I long for.

Weird weather, this, Kathryn. I'm up there on Friday and see that it's stil going to be both humid but can that be? Soup is always grand when you can't work out what to cook!

Thanks Truffle - it IS good. How's life after travel treating you?

Johanna, stock-making does take time, something most people don't have, and I know that two hours seems a lot, but on a lazy Sunday it's a fun thing to do. How typical is it that the heat set in just as I hit publish!!!???

Wendy, you must be sick of the cold by now, but wait...snow! Yay for snow! I remember your glut from last year...I will be popping back through your archive as the season continues and I have a glut of my own...

Welcome Emiline - those dumplings are like little sponges, absorbing the flavours around them but also retaining enough character of their own.

Think you'd like the flavours going on here, Suganya. The zucchini were very photogenic on that day!

Ricki, I always feel terrible about chucking out all that stuff, though the compost bin is happy enough to accept my scraps. Will think of a way to utilize those veggies...blended into a soup of their own could be good!

Deb, isn't summer an amazing time to cook? Well into Autumn I have a plethora of choices, too. As for soup - is there anything it cannot do?!

Thank you, Nora, you are a breath of fresh air I tell ya! Quikong is right - zucchini is bland, but that just makes it all the better to take on brighter, stronger flavours, I reckon! It's nice to have you home again.

Calli, something strange is afoot methinks. All the blinding snow in the Northern hemisphere and a cooler summer down here...stock's great with a good, strong background note that comes from the handful of lentils.

Lisa, I ate quite a few dumplings before they went into the soup. They are golden and crunchy from the frying...hope the event is a raging sucess.

Christina, I am loving it. It's cool enough to sleep well at nights and that's a blessing, I can tell you. I made these with feta as that's what I had at the time, but Deborah Madison used Jack cheese which I think is like a strongly flavoured cheddar. Of course, I coud be wrong there...but corn and cheddar is a stunning combination.

Thanks Simona - isn't she just amazing?

Warda, you are too kind! The garden has become such a big part of my cooking that I like to let others in from time to time - so very glad that you like what you read!

Susan said...

We have January skies here, just the same frothy pastels, but in the dead of winter; afterall, we *do* share the cosmos no matter where we live.

Lucy, I will dream about that trinity of greens, a final blessing to the most amazingly flavored and textured broth. (Big sigh.)

Stephanie said...

I think I'm going to have to get myself a copy of that Deborah Madison book. Hope all is well with you ... apologies for my lack of response to emails etc... adjustment disorder perhaps?

Rosa said...

Another gorgeous post! Love that tea towel. And I'm a big fan of Deborah Madison too - don't know what I would do without her Greens cookbook.

Lucy said...

And for that very same connecting cosmos, dear Susan, I am eternally grateful! During bushfire season, which in theory we should be smack bang in the centre of, the skies are incredible to watch at night - reds and oranges that (nearly) make the eyes hurt. The broth, well it's quite a stunning but gentle shade of apricot - a perfect backdrop for that delicious greenery.

Stephanie, you'd love this book (well, they're all pretty good...even her tofu one isn't bad) but you'll need to order online or get a (good) bookseller to import. Adjustment, of course, takes a surprising amount of time I've always found. But you are finding your feet. Aren't those baths in Coogee sensational? Not a lot of cheap and cheerful options left up there anymore.

Rosa, Greens is a marvel, isn't it? Thing I love about DM is that she's as well versed in Mexican/South American flavours as she is in European and Asian ones. Ah yes, a new prop that matches my apron. God, am turning into my mother...

Mansi Desai said...

wow, that looks awesome! and so healthy too:)

purple goddess said...





That's what I'm having tonight!!!

Perfect for a "coolish" Friday night.


Lucy said...

Well, Mansi, it's quite healthy...just try to forget about the oil in which you fry the dumplings...

PG - welcome, love! As I left the city today (in Sydney visiting parents) it was uber-perfect weather for this sort of thing. Where the hell did summer go? Hope you like - the dumplings are divine.

Cynthia said...

I just want to drink that most flavourful broth! Yum!

Anonymous said...

wonderful wonderful writing.
i got goosebumpy thinking about the goosebumps and have been unearthing my winter woolies as well.

vegetablej said...

I love the idea of the cornmeal cheddar dumplings, especially since a tiny cheese shop opened just around the corner and I can get some.

I guess our seasons are opposite, 'cause it's freezing here and zucchini, which is a dratted hard word to spell, is as scarce as blue eyes, but want to try the dumplings out in some kind of soup. Do you know of anything that I could substitute?

Great picture of the sky and the perfect description is chalky; those are the exact colours in my pastel box, I think.

Thanks for being here and writing that I _really_ like to read.


bee said...

deborah madison book is one of my favourites. your pics are just warm and wonderful.

Laurie Constantino said...

Bountiful buxom beauty, mmmm, your recipe sounds very tasty but Lucy, your writing takes my breath away. You're very talented - it's as if you are painting with words - the images you describe are so vivid.

Lucy said...

Cynthia - it's a broth well worth drinking in!

Hi anon - it's been so unseasonally cool here that I'm beginning to think I needn't have bought anything sleeveless this summer...

You know VJ, I have always struggled to get the spelling of that damn word zucchini (said as she checks just to make sure) right first time! Reckon you could use almost anything here, but some chunks of pumpkin (winter squash), roasted until golden and sticky then floated in the broth would be quite lovely. Likewise, I am grateful for your beautiful words, my dear! Am in the process of hunting down some good, organic soy beans to attempt your recent tofu-ing. Thanks.

Can't get 'nuff of that Deborah Madison, Bee. And, of course, I'm in lust with her stunning props in that book - those clay pieces are just wonderful. I must get my act together for your Click event one of these days...

Gosh, Laurie, you're too kind! Am in Sydney with my parents this week, eating all sorts of delicious treats, 'filling the well' as they say, so that when I get home tomorrow I'll be fresh and ready to write more. Thank you for reading - it means a great deal to me.

Gavan Murphy aka The Healthy Irishman said...

Lucy, just got on your site. Your photos look amazing and the food, brilliant. I'm looking forward to checking back as often as possible.

Lucy said...

Hi Gavan - welcome, and thanks. I see you've got some interesting health-related info yourself. Good of you to drop by!

katiez said...

I still have a few bags of zucchini in the freezer from last summer; plus a few containers of soup. It brings the garden back to life in the middle of winter!
Lovely summer soup.