This might not seem like the ideal moment, at least in the Bay Area, to post a recipe about soup. It has been suffocatingly hot here all week, exacerbated by the fact that ours are not apartments or businesses or schools—or people, for that matter—made for the heat. But you can eat this soup not only hot but also cold, a feature that might be helpful to those of you who have wildly variable temperatures from one day to the next, which seems to be not just Midwesterners but rather most of us of late. I have heard, though, that cooler days are ahead, a suggestion supported by the refreshingly cold fog last night in San Francisco, the one that felt like a blessed relief from the hot day it punctuated and sparked daydreams about late-night whiskey and a renewed affection for sweaters and tea.
Besides, this is that moment, heat wave or no, when the transition from summer to fall begins. It was about two weeks ago that I first felt it. Despite warm temperatures, it was clear that something had changed, in the way the breeze felt as it brushed past me, in the smell of the air. It’s hard to put a finger on what really changes, but I’m always comforted when I feel it in my bones.
I love summer, of course, desperately and passionately, like a teenage romance, like ice cream and sparklers and boisterous backyard parties. But I love autumn, too, with a quiet, steady love, welcome like aging and wisdom, when I’ve become weary of chasing summer bliss and the effort required to stay on top of the fun. I’m eager for soup and the sturdiness of squash and tights and scarves. I love the changing colors of the leaves, and we’re planning a trip north in coming weeks, where I hear the whole thing is a bit more stunning. We made a tradition of this when I was little, the beloved “color tour” ritual that we practiced each autumn. We would jump in the car and head north (the proper direction in Michigan as well!), where the trees would be on fire with red and orange and burnished copper. As we drove, we’d watch the dense forests rushing past like a brilliant sweep of watercolors, my sister and me cozy and happy in the back seat of the car. It seems fair to say that the dual feelings of comfort and adventure, which I think may peak during childhood, are perfectly captured in that memory.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re not quite there yet, out in the throes of autumn, but right this minute is the perfect and only moment for those lovely soups that can be whipped up from summer produce: pappa al pomodoro, tomato soup made from real tomatoes, zucchini soup zipped through with lemon and cream. And this, of course: sweet corn soup, a rather ideal representation of the category. It tastes like the very essence of corn, and thus of August itself, but it’s warming and comfortable, too, a harbinger of what’s to come. It’s flexible—open to elaborate garnish or a simple drizzle of oil, delicious whether served either hot or cold. And this is, in fact, the very trait we ourselves need in this transitional time. If you’re not feeling ready, this soup might help.
Sweet Corn Soup with Black Sesame Gomasio & Basil
Barely adapted from Amy Chaplin’s At Home in the Whole Foods Kitchen
The original recipe calls for chives, but I had basil on hand and love the obvious-but-delicious pairing with corn. Gomasio is a fun and very tasty touch. I think toasted pepitas or little edible flowers would be lovely atop, too.
I’d heard of using corn cobs to make a more flavorful stock or soup, but this was the first time I tried it. It’s a brilliant way to use something that might otherwise go to waste, and I think it makes a huge impact on the flavor of the soup.
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
5 cups sweet corn kernels (from 5-6 ears), 3 cobs reserved for cooking soup
4 bay leaves
5 cups water
Freshly cracked black pepper
Black sesame seeds, toasted
1 small bunch basil, leaves cut in a chiffonade
TO MAKE THE SOUP
In a large pot over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, or until golden. Toss in the garlic and salt and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the corn kernels, bay leaves and water. Break the reserved cobs in half and add them to the pot as well. Raise the heat and bring the soup to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes, until the corn is bright yellow and fully cooked.
Remove the corn cobs and bay leaves. In an upright blender, purée the soup in batches on the highest speed for 1 or 2 minutes, until completely smooth. Season to taste.
Serve topped with cracked pepper, gomasio (recipe follows) and basil.
TO MAKE THE GOMASIO
To make the black sesame gomasio, start by toasting the seeds. It’s helpful to rinse them first. I like to toast them in a dry sauté pan over a medium flame or in a 300 degree oven. Allow the seeds to cool, then put a few tablespoons in a mortar along with a pinch of salt. Crush the seeds with the pestle, until coarsely ground. Keep any remaining gomasio in a sealed container for up to a month; it will keep best in the refrigerator.