Cold soups are, er, so hot right now, and, for Skye McAlpine, something of an obsession. “I’m very into them,” says the author of A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty. “Anything creamy works well,” she says, “but I really love ajo blanco, a chilled almond soup, which is like an almond butter sandwich in soup form.” No nut butter experience is complete without fruit, and McAlpine serves hers with chunks of melon, apple or grapes.
For Mexican chef Santiago Lastra, whose restaurant, Kol, will soon open in central London, the formula for the perfect chilled soup goes like this: “Use something fresh that has a lot of natural water – cucumber, tomatoes, kohlrabi, or fruits like cherries – add some spice with half a scotch bonnet [if you don’t like chilli, use ginger or garlic], salt and acidity. Basically, that’s the vibe of cold soup.”
Don’t go overboard on the latter, though, and Lastra’s top tip is to use kombucha. He adds it to his favoured cucumber soup, which he strains and serves with razor clams cooked with garlic, or with shrimps, for a barbecue starter.
The outdoors is, of course, where it’s at for socialising these days. When the weather isn’t playing ball, however, a chilled soup that can also be warmed up will be your friend. McAlpine favours pea and basil: “Simmer frozen peas with vegetable stock until cooked, then add some basil and watercress, or mint, blitz and chill.” A creamy tomato soup is another top chilled/warmed option, she says.
And don’t dismiss camp gazpacho outright, Neil, because, as chef and restaurateur José Pizarro says, “Gazpacho will save your life. In Spain, we have different ones: there is salmorejo, which is thicker, because you normally add bread; and my mum, Isabel, makes a melon gazpacho – cucumber, green peppers, tomatoes, black pepper, melon, vinegar, plenty of olive oil and croutons – which is stunning.” Carb lovers will also find joy in McAlpine’s other obsession: yoghurt, walnut and fennel soup, which she blitzes “like a smoothie” with stale bread and a little milk. “That’s the nice thing about cold soups,” she says. “There’s instant gratification.” A sprinkling of fresh herbs never goes amiss, nor does an ice cube or two if patience is not your strong point.
Few dishes aren’t improved by the addition of an egg, and Pizarro’s mum’s “thick and silky” fried egg gazpacho is no different. Fry the egg in olive oil, then add a bay leaf followed by fried stale bread (cut roughly into 1cm cubes) and garlic. Add everything to a bowl, discarding the bay, add fresh bread – crusts removed and broken up – and mix until it forms a paste. Then, Pizarro says, add water and vinegar and top with lemon-thyme croutons. “It’s something my mum loves, and if Isabel loves it, everyone loves it.” And who am I to argue?