Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

Gussy up your garden-variety zucchini soup with loads of leeks and basil, piquant pickled sweet corn, and a swirl of tangy crème fraîche; it’s equally good hot or cold. 

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

Karl the Fog is back in full force here in San Francisco. And while the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is sweltering with smoothies and popsicles, Catamus and I can be found cozied up under blankets, sipping tea, and writing lovingly about warm bowls of soup.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

I actually purchased a winter coat today as my usual wardrobe wasn’t cutting it. I’m not complaining – on the contrary, I’m relieved that SF is back to its regularly scheduled frigid summer temperatures after a few years of creepily warm, dry weather that seriously cramped my baking style. Whereas last summer was spent sweating in an 80-degree kitchen testing dessert after dessert for the book, Jay practically begged me to turn the oven on today. “Can you please bake something? It’s freezing!”

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

In the past week we’ve had pizza twice (this GF crust topped with summer vegetables and burrata), tres leches cake, two kinds of GF chocolate chip cookies, and a GF berry cake made for a friend’s birthday. Next on the list is pie, or maybe clafoutis, and definitely some ice cream sandwiches.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

Another plus for chilly weather? Cats need extra snuggles to stay warm. Today, I went to my friend Shelley’s house, laptop in tow, intending to wax poetic about zucchini soup while watching her new kitten. You can imagine how much work I got done. The three-month-old tabby is about the size of my forearm with downy fuzz all over her tiny frame. She immediately curled up on my chest and fell asleep, tiny paws tucked under her, purring loudly. I lay there, paralyzed by her cuteness, as the hours ticked by.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

Heaven.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

To counteract all this baking, we’ve been eating pot after pot of zucchini soup. This version was inspired by one that I enjoyed at Lalime’s, a charming restaurant in North Berkeley that gives Chez Panisse a run for its money. It was silky smooth, kissed with cream, and topped with pickled shallots.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

My version is naturally creamy from leeks and a bit of potato, with just a touch of crème fraîche on top. Sweet corn kernels lightly pickled with diced shallot make a sweet-tart counterpoint to the delicate soup that tastes like summer in a bowl.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

Serve small bowls as a starter, or ladle up bigger servings with toasted cheese sandwiches for an easy supper.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

Best of all? This soup works as well warm as it does chilled; just thin the soup with a bit of extra broth and punch up the flavor with lemon juice for a refreshingly cool variation.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

Thanks for reading! If you make this dish, I’d love to see. Snap a photo and tag it on Instagram #BojonGourmet and @The_Bojon_Gourmet.

Zucchini for days:

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn
Yields: 4 large or 6 small servings
 
Cooling the soup and blanching the basil before blending help preserve the soup's bright green hue. Small zucchini tend to have the best flavor; if your zucchini are large, you may need to punch up the flavor with a cube of bouillon or some vegetable stock in place of the water. Serve this soup warm on cool summer evenings, or serve chilled thinned with extra broth and enough lemon juice to brighten the flavors. Trade the butter for light olive oil and leave off the crème fraîche for a vegan variation.
Ingredients
Corn:
  • 2 medium corn cobs
  • ½ small shallot, peeled and finely diced
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) champagne vinegar
Soup:
  • 3 medium leeks (500 g)
  • 2 tablespoons (30 g) butter
  • 1 ¼ pounds zucchini (about 6 small / 570 g), trimmed and chopped into roughly ½″ pieces
  • 1 medium yukon gold potato (200 g), peeled and chopped
  • ½ teaspoon salt, more as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups (950 ml) water
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • leaves from 1 large or 2 small bunches basil (2-3 cups lightly packed), plus a few pretty sprigs for garnish
  • crème fraiche, for serving
Instructions
Make the corn:
  1. Shuck the corn cobs and remove the silk. Hold a cob upright in a shallow bowl and use a small, serrated knife to slice off the top ⅔ of the corn kernels, sawing with a downward motion. Repeat with the second corn cob. Add the shallot to the corn, then toss with the vinegar and salt. Cover and chill until needed, at least 1 hour and up to 1 week, stirring a few times.
Make the soup:
  1. Slice the leeks in half lengthwise, then cut the white and light green parts crosswise into ½” thick pieces. Place the leeks in a large bowl, cover with cool water, and let stand 5 minutes and swishing occasionally; any sandy dirt stuck in the leek’s layers will sink to the bottom.
  2. In a large saucepan or soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Scoop the leeks from their water and add to the pot along with the potato, stirring until softened, 5 minutes. Add the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is fairly soft, 5 minutes. Add the salt, a few turns of pepper, and enough water to just cover the vegetables. Increase the heat and bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, until the zucchini and potato are very soft, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature, about 1 hour.
  3. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil, and prepare an ice water bath. Reserve a few pretty sprigs of basil for garnish, and add the rest to the pot of boiling water. Cook until bright green, 20 seconds or so, then scoop out with a slotted spoon and plunge into the ice water bath, swishing until cold. Remove the basil from the ice bath and squeeze dry.
  4. Scoop the solids out of the soup pot with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl of a blender or food processor (you may have to do this in batches). Add the blanched basil, crème fraiche, and a bit of the cooled soup liquid. Puree smooth, adding as much broth as you need to make a creamy soup. Blend in 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice and taste, adding more lemon, salt, or pepper if you feel the soup needs it.
  5. To serve, return the soup to the pot over medium heat to warm, stirring occasionally. Ladle into bowls and serve with a swirl of crème fraiche, a scoop of pickled corn, and a few basil leaves.

Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn

23 thoughts on “Zucchini Basil Soup with Crème Fraîche and Pickled Corn”

  1. This is stunning! I love that the creaminess comes from veggies too, perfect for summer cooking :) And I saw that kitten picture you posted on Instagram….OHMYGOODNESS. I don’t know how you got any work done. So adorable!

  2. Gorgeous soup. I don’t think I’ve actually had zucchini soup before, but I absolutely love my favorite herb Basil, and this summer I’ve got to make this. Beautiful photos as always, forever an inspiration!

  3. As I sit in an air conditioned room with the fan on full speed, hiding away from the 100 degree weather, I envy your cool summer. Blankets during July? That is something I need to experience! For now, I will certainly try the chilled version of this soup!

  4. You took the words right out of my mouth, but said them in a far more eloquent way than I could have mustered. I love everything about this little city on the bay, EXCEPT for these foggy summers. I’m putting on a pot of your soup today, asap, and not just because I want to warm up the house too!

  5. This was absolutely lovely! We prepared it last night but ate it today, chilled outside on our deck in the Berkeley sunshine. The teenagers delighted in it and we adults thought it was delicious, refreshing and simply wonderful. We have made so many of your brilliant recipes (summer enchiladas, curries, rice bowls, various miso bowls, toffee-ale desserts and so many more). Would love to host you for food in Berkeley to thank you for the many tasty dinners and delicacies we have enjoyed and shared with friends and family.

  6. Hello Alanna! I’m not sure that I’ve commented before, but I am a loving fan of all you do. This soup is one of the most beautiful things (photography and flavor) that I’ve ever seen. This is such a delicious way to celebrate peak summer produce. Thank you for inspiring – I hope to prepare this soon!

    1. Aw, thank you Danielle! I’m a fan of your beautiful veggie pics, too! Please let me know how you like the soup, and LMK if you’re ever in SF – I’d love to meet you. :)

  7. This was delicious! I went with the vegan version, kept it really thick, added some calamari, clams and peas, and poured it over orrecchiete. But the pickled corn really stole the show – genius!

  8. That has to be one of the prettiest colors for a soup ever! We have Karl to fog here in Santa Cruz as well, which is why my last post was also soup. :D But I am not as lucky as you, as I don’t have any kitties to snuggle up to.

  9. I can’t believe you didn’t steal that kitten. Give me the address and I’ll go get her for you. YOU DESERVE ALL THE SNUGGLES. I’ll welcome Karl back any time if he brings a bowl of this soup. The pickled corn is genius, Alanna.

  10. Frigid summer? It’s so warm down in Southern California right now. This soup – so up my alley – love the flavors and the vibrant color.

  11. I use to live up north, so I remember those cold summers. The soup is great way to use up the zucchini I have in the refrigerator right now.

  12. I followed your recipe exactly as written, including blanching the basil for a few seconds and putting it in an ice bath. After pureeing it in the food processor, my soup looks like a dirty yellowish color with a very slight greenish tinge (not even close to your photos (did you photoshop them?) and the taste was quite bland. I used small zucchinis (organic). I had to season it quite heavily to get any flavor. I had such high hopes but I don’t think I’ll be making this again.

    On a brighter note, I made the upside down plum almond cake and that turned out really well. I’ll stick with your baking recipes from now on.

    1. Hey Margaret, I’m really sorry you did not love the look or taste of this soup. Thank you for letting me know! My only guess is that maybe the food processor didn’t puree the basil finely enough to color the soup green, or that something went awry in the blanching process. I used a high-speed blender and it was quite green IRL, no Photoshopping necessary (though I do make some minor edits in Lightroom). As for the flavor, zucchini soup does lean toward the mild side, but sometimes it helps to add a cube of vegetable bouillon if the flavors aren’t popping on their own. I actually tested the soup with bouillon first, but liked the cleaner taste of the version made with just water, which let the sweet leeks and peppery basil shine more. I will plan to give this another test in the coming weeks just to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes when I wrote up the recipe. Again, I’m really sorry that you didn’t love it, and I’m so glad you had better luck with the cake. That’s a favorite around here. :)

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