Puree your day


One of my favorite pastimes is frequenting old bookstores. Drop me in any city: London, Paris, New York, Chicago or San Francisco and I will be filled with bliss just rummaging through the dusty aisles.

I love used books. I often reflect about the previous owner and always take delight if there is a hand-written inscription on the title page. I bought my copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” from a used bookstore in New Hope. The inscription reads: “To Ted and Dottie, Bon appetite for all the good things of life! Freddie and Charles, February, 1970.” Charles was the identical twin of Paul Child, Julia’s husband. Freddie was his wife. I get a special kick if my purchase is out of print.

Pleasure comes upon me when I hold a book, turn its pages and tuck in a bookmarker when I put it down. I will never buy a NOOK or Kindle because I don’t like the cold feel of them.

For this column, I placed some old cookbooks on my desk, shut my eyes and pointed to “Great Recipes from The New York Times” edited by Raymond Sokolov, published in 1973. I’m not sure if it is out of print, but if you happen upon a copy, buy it.

Sokolov, 70, holds a degree in classics from Harvard University. He was a foreign correspondent for Newsweek in France, returned to New York and joined The New York Times. According to the blurb on the dust jacket, during his years as food editor of The New York Times, he gathered recipes from famous French chefs, as well as inventive amateurs, from historic American homes and from authentic Chinese sources.

Since the weather has been ghastly, here are recipes for cool summer soups from “Great Recipes.” Just add a big green salad, loaf of bread and a glass of sauvignon blanc and you will enjoy a delicious supper.


Cold Cucumber Soup


1/4 cup of onion, sliced
2 cups of cucumber, unpeeled and diced
2 sprigs of fresh parsley
1 11-ounce can of chicken broth
2 tablespoons of quick-cooking rice cereal
1/8 teaspoon of pepper
1/4 teaspoon of dry mustard
Paprika, to taste


Place the first four ingredients in a saucepan. Add the cereal and seasonings. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for about 15 minutes.

Put the cooked mixture through a sieve or food mill or blend in a blender for about one minute, until smooth.

Add 1 cup of cold water and cream to the sieved mixture. Correct for seasonings, if necessary. Chill thoroughly. Sprinkle with the paprika before serving.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: We have come a long way since the book was first published. People now use food processors for chopping, blending and pureeing. When I make this soup, I always use small Israeli cucumbers, which are peeled, and yogurt in place of heavy cream in this recipe. I never cook it. But I wanted to share a recipe from the ’70s.


Puree of Asparagus Soup


1-1/2 to 2 pounds of asparagus (1 average bundle)
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
3-1/2 to 4 cups of chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/8 teaspoon of grated nutmeg


Break the ends off of the asparagus and discard. Wash them well and cut off the tips. Slice stalks diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces

Heat the butter in a skillet. Add the onion and cook for three minutes. Add the sliced stalks and cook for one minute. Add 2-1/2 cups of the stock, salt and pepper. Add the nutmeg. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer until the stalks are barely tender. Add the tips and cook for about three minutes.

Blend the asparagus and liquid in a blender until smooth. Chill the soup for several hours.

Whisk enough of the remaining stock into the pureed asparagus mixture to make the desired consistency. Serve in chilled bowls.

Serves three to four.


Note from Phyllis: It is a good thing Sokolov gave pound amounts for the asparagus because an average bundle can vary from store to store. Note he does not say kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. It was not until ’84 when Barbara Kafka published “Food for Friends” that home cooks began to use kosher salt. This soup also is delicious served hot. Top it with small, homemade buttery croutons, bite-sized bits of crisp slab bacon or pancetta. SPR


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