I understand you’ve been having unseasonably warm weather lately, despite the stark contrast of chilly days and near-freezing nights over on the opposite side of the country. I feel your pain, really I do, but not everyone else sees it this way. I write to you as a friend, not to criticize but to suggest toning down the complaints, at least until Halloween has passed. Some of New England is getting mighty jealous, and I hate to see such petty things come between you two.
PS, did you ever find the cell phone charger I left at your place two years ago?
It’s a tricky time of year, when the stretch of land makes the distance between our country’s coasts all the more apparent. Jump on a plane and you’ll find yourself in an entirely different climate, one that can feel so vastly different that it may as well be a different planet. Suddenly I have to worry about our slow-ripening tomatoes getting hit with the first frost before they ever have a chance to mature, while friends hundreds of miles away bemoan the summer that just won’t quit.
Always seeking that elusive middle ground, some compromise that will make everyone happy, I offer you this odd-ball recipe. Soup that can be served just as satisfying hot or cold, the concept is nothing new, but the content might give unsuspecting eaters pause. With a good bit of leftover Caesar dressing but feeling too cold for straight-up salad, I decided to take a gamble and turn the classic combination into a more liquid format. A light starter, bright with sharp acidity, it’s an excellent way to kick off any meal. Chilled, the flavors have more time to meld and harmonize, but warm, it soothes the soul and takes the edge off a brisk day. Such an avant-garde serving suggestion may not suit everyone’s tastes, but it’s sure worth a try, no matter what coast you find yourself on.
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
2 Small, Trimmed and Cleaned Leeks (White and Light Green Parts only) (6 Ounces)
2 Small Cloves Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Yukon Gold Potato (6 – 8 Ounces), Peeled and Diced
2 Teaspoons Lemon Juice
3 1/2 – 4 Cups Vegetable Stock
1 Pounds Romaine Lettuce (About 2 Hearts), Plus 4 – 5 Firm Inner Leaves for Garnish
1 Cup Baby Spinach
1/3 Cup Vegan Caesar Dressing, Plus 1 – 2 Tablespoons for Garnish
1/4 Teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
Salt, to Taste
Garlic and Herb Croutons
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Fresh Thyme (or 1/2 Teaspoon Dried)
1/4 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
1/4 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
2 1/2 Cups 1/2-Inch Cubed Sourdough Bread (About 3 1.5-Ounce Slices)
To begin the soup, coat the bottom of a medium saucepan with olive oil and set it over medium heat. Add in the leeks and garlic, gently sauteing until softened and aromatic; about 3 – 4 minutes. Be careful not to brown the vegetables, but rather allow them to sweat. Add in the potato, lemon juice, and 3 1/2 cups vegetable stock, and bring the mixture up to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and let bubble quietly for 10 – 15 minutes, until the potato is fork-tender.
Transfer the contents of the pot to your blender and thoroughly puree. Introduce a few handfuls of spinach and romaine at a time, blending until the bulk has been chopped down, and then adding the next bunch. Puree until completely smooth- The soup will not be nearly as enjoyable if it’s not perfectly silky in texture. Finally, add the dressing, pepper, and salt to taste, blending briefly to combine. Either chill for at least 3 hours for a cold version, or serve right away to enjoy it hot.
For the croutons, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a silpat or aluminum foil. (Note: I wanted to save some energy so I made mine in a little toaster oven. The pieces all fit, but barely, so be mindful of your space if you go that route.)
Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl, and toss to coat all of the bread cubes. Pour everything onto your prepared sheet, and spread out the cubes so that they’re all in one even layer. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes, stirring halfway through the cook time, until golden brown and crisp. Let cool completely before serving.
To serve, ladle out the soup into bowls and top with some of the reserved, chopped lettuce, a drizzle of extra dressing, and a handful of croutons.
Makes 4 – 5 Side Dish or Starter-Sized Servings