Simply food


A spectacular archway of wisteria in Boston, Mass.

A spectacular archway of wisteria in Boston, Mass.

Recipes: Three favourite chilled soups for hot summer days: vichyssoise, gazpacho and avocado.

Diary: Fixing our pocket garden with a new arbour, and lots more.

As we are leaving England this spring, we visit a few of the great stately home gardens, where wisteria climbs profusely up ancient brick walls. The blossoms are coming out, dangling from the tender vines like great succulent clusters of grapes. The scent is overpowering and in some cases there seem to be more blossoms than vine leaves. Not so at home in Toronto, where we have apparently been lax in pruning our wisteria, such that for the past couple of years it has refused to offer a single blossom. Our neighbours both have wisteria and on one side they are blessed with an abundance of lilac coloured blossoms and a heavenly scent. On the other side their vine exhibits all the signs of life of a dead parrot. My excuse for ours is two devastatingly cold winters and the anomalies of pocket gardens in the city.

Ripe tomatoes picked fresh from the garden

Ripe tomatoes picked fresh from the garden

The decision to remove the python-like gnarled trunks that have over time destroyed much of our arbor was easy. The tree guys had it gone in a flash. Our lovely 30 foot tall Japanese red maple is also showing signs of stress, and the diagnosis is that it has got to go. Down that comes as well, and the autopsy reveals a rotten centre in the trunk.

When we brought in a contractor to see about repairing the arbour, he leaned on one of the uprights and it snapped at the base. Oh well, start from scratch. Now that job is done, it is time to address the wonky interlocking paving. Another contractor and days of painstaking work have seen the job completed.

Meanwhile, the flowering hawthorn we had planted a couple of seasons ago is looking very sick. We take a sample twig to the garden centre whence it came and the expert declares it sick with a fungus. Since our garden is now tree-less, we look at tubs of new trees and the expert kindly offers us a new Japanese maple at half price. We accept and a day later it is installed by a very pleasant young French lad from Avignon.

Gazpacho - chilled soup from Andalucia

Gazpacho – chilled soup from Andalucia

Our eastern European gardeners arrive to weed and prune and plant and finally the garden is back to a semblance of normal. Of course, it will be weeks before all the new growth blends together and softens into a cohesive whole, but at least we are ready to entertain again.

Dining on hot summer nights argues for at least a cold soup for starters and I delve into my recipe cards for appropriate offerings.

If you think of cold soups, vichyssoise immediately comes first to mind.  Nothing is more delicious than a hearty potato and leek soup, but in summertime it is too hearty. Chilled, with the addition of thick cream and, voilà, a sensuous, silky summer soup.

Chilled avocado soup - Aguacate Diane

Chilled avocado soup – Aguacate Diane

I’m sure we all think vichyssoise is a French creation, but Julia Child, in her Mastering the Art of French Cooking firmly states it is an American invention. Further research takes us to M. Louis Diat, a chef at New York’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel. In 1950 he wrote in the New Yorker magazine that in 1917 he “reflected upon the potato and leek soup of my childhood, which my grandmother used to make. During the summer my older brother and I used to cool it off by pouring in cold milk. I resolved to make something of the sort for our patrons and named it after the town of Vichy, not far from our home in France.”

However, I have something else in mind for the first supper under our new arbour and remembering our annual visits to Mexico, the rich, ripe taste of gazpacho seems more appropriate. In fact, this raw vegetable soup comes from Andalusia, Spain, and goes back at least to Moorish times, with possibly even Roman origins. In those days soup usually contained an element of stale bread, but I have omitted that unneccessary thickener from my recipe, while keeping the traditional goodly portion of olive oil.

Third in my trio of chilled soups is avocado, which seems to be fashionably new and suddenly on the menu in every restaurant in Toronto this summer. It is really easy and my creamy version, surprisingly, contains no dairy at all.

It hails from Colombia, where they call it crema de aguacate, although the traditional version is served warm. It’s a staple of the city of Tumaco on the Pacific west coast.

All three are delicious and Diane has taste tested each one as it comes out of the kitchen. The last she declared the most yummy, so I have named it for her.


  • Servings: 6
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by Nigel Napier-Andrews

Preparation time 15 mins
Cooking time 15 mins
Chilling time 2 hrs

Shopping list

  • 1 lb peeled and quartered white potatoes
  • 1 lb thinly sliced leeks
  • 1 ½ quarts chicken stock
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp chopped chives (for garnish)

Preparation and cooking

  1. Peel and quarter the potatoes, wash the leeks very thoroughly, discard the green outer leaves and tops and slice the tender white and pale green sections very thinly. Add to a heavy cooking pot.
  2. Simmer the vegetables in chicken stock for about 15 minutes until they are very tender.
  3. Purée the hot soup in a blender, remove to a bowl, cover and chill for at least 2 hours.
  4. Before serving, add up to 1 cup of whipping cream, blending in thoroughly with a whisk. Season to taste.
  5. Serve in chilled bowls and garnish with chopped chives.


  • Servings: 6
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by Nigel Napier-Andrews

Preparation time 30 mins
Chilling time 3 hrs

Shopping list

  • 2 lb ripe tomatoes
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 1 sweet red pepper
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 cup virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and ground fresh pepper to taste

Preparation and cooking

  1. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water to blanch, peel off the skins, which should slip off easily, halve and remove the seeds and core. Set aside in a bowl, cover and chill.
  2. Chop the white onion into big chunks to make processing easier. Core and remove the seeds from the pepper and chop into chunks. Add to the bowl.
  3. Peel the cucumber, cut lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Chop into chunks. Reserve 2 tbsp each of the tomato, onion, pepper and cucumber for garnish.
  4. Now feed the vegetables, herbs, vinegar and lemon juice into the blender and process until it results in a smooth purée. Add the olive oil slowly until the correct consistency has been achieved. You may want to add less than the full measure. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste, blending thoroughly as you go.
  5. Pour into a bowl, cover and chill thoroughly so all the flavours blend, preferably overnight but at least for three hours. Serve in chilled bowls and garnish with the reserved vegetables.


  • Servings: 6
  • Print

by Nigel Napier-Andrews

Surprisingly, this chilled avocado soup contains no dairy.

Preparation time 20 mins
Chilling time 2 hrs

Shopping list

  • 3 ripe Haas avocados
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • Sea salt to taste

Preparation and cooking

  1. Peel the avocados and add to the blender in chunks. (TIP: The easiest way to peel and stone avocados is to run a very sharp knife around the perimeter down to the stone, then repeat the process on the other quarter, but only score the peel. Break the avocado in half and the stone will be left in one side. Chunk your knife into the stone, give it a slight twist and the stone will pop out easily. Then peel each quarter.)
  2. Chop the cilantro finely and add, along with the chicken or vegetable stock, lemon juice and cumin. Blend until smooth. Add the cayenne pepper and salt to taste and adjust as necessary.
  3. Pour into a bowl and chill for at least 2 hrs. Serve in chilled bowls and garnish with fresh mint or cilantro.

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