A simple zucchini soup. Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

Last week I wrote about our first meal in Italy with the Motturas—the fineness of the meal and the pleasures of sitting down to many courses. But many courses didn’t mean many elaborate courses but rather food of the simplest order. The first course was composed of nothing more than day-old bread and a few garden vegetables, seasoned with vinegar and oil. When this was done, our host Alessandra disappeared from the table to make the soup course. It too used vegetables from the garden and water.

I’ve long espoused the value of water, devoting a whole chapter to its many uses in Ruhlman’s Twenty, and I was pleased to see it used so efficiently here. So much so that I bought a couple of small summer squashes at our Saturday farmers’ market to make it again and describe exactly how it’s done.

The following is the mise en place—zucchini, aromatic vegetables, inexpensive white wine, olive oil, and salt. All you do is cook the vegetables, add the wine and water, and season with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

Those worrying that cooking is too difficult or time consuming, consider zucchini soup. Healthy, light, flavorful, and making use of what’s growing.

Now I’m preparing for Brian Polcyn’s arrival, and a pig, to film a promotional video for our new book, Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing, just out this week!

Simple Zucchini Soup

  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • olive oil as needed
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 small yellow summer squash, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a few leaves of basil, chiffonade
  • a few leaves of mint, chiffonade
  1. Sauté the shallot and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat till tender, just before it’s browned, 5 minutes or so.
  2. Add the zucchini and summer squash and sauté till tender, a few more minutes, salting them as you do. Give them several good grinds of pepper.
  3. Add the wine and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the water and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook for about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the basil and mint and serve, garnished with a healthy drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 2 (can be doubled)

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© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.



13 Wonderful responses to “Basic Meals—Just Add Water”

  • Dean

    I love simple recipes like this soup and the panzanella salad you refer to. While it’s fun to experiment with complex flavor combinations, letting an ingredient shine on its own always makes for a great dish.

  • Sherry

    Not to complicate this lovely simple recipe; but zucchini soup also benefits from a fast whiz with a hand-held blender…worth a try when you want a silky texture. A bit of heavy cream would be gilding the lily…but it’s nice:)

  • Carly

    The annual glut of zucchini recipes (of which, this might be one of the nicest) takes on an almost sinister quality when it’s been as inauspicious a year for zucchini as it has been in my backyard. I’ve pulled exactly four out of the garden thus far. Four! It’s unheard of.

  • Erik

    Michael, I’d argue that for the same reason you should NEVER use the canned “stock/broth”, likewise you should never use Crane Lake.

    • mantonat

      I was about to disagree with you since price and quality are not always correlated, but a quick Wiki search illuminates exactly how Bronco Wines (owners of the Crane Lake and Charles Shaw brands, among many others) are able to maintain such low prices. Past cases of fraudulent labeling and inhumane working conditions show exactly where they have cut corners. Not that I’m calling out Ruhlman (as I didn’t know this until about a minute ago), but knowing this will make me a little more likely to buy from independent labels rather than corporate producers. (I’m also not judging based on my perfunctory reading of a Wiki article since I really don’t know the full story, but it’s a good starting point to do a little more research.)

      • Drago

        Interesting to know! I was about to congratulate Ruhlman on cooking with a cheap-but-palatable wine. Now…I won’t.

  • Jon

    You did it again MR… thank you! You have shown us how truly simple it is to make good food at home. Your recipe proves this. Also, some folks are not aware of how easily mint and basil will grow; low maintenance, high yield. Seasonal produce, treated properly, will render excellent results. I might add a warm baguette and a glass of vino. Voila!

  • mantonat

    I made this dish last night but did not have any white wine on hand, so I used a touch of sherry vinegar for a little acidity and it turned out great. I’m sure even a squeeze of lemon juice would be good too – although I’m interested in trying the original recipe posted earlier that just uses water. Good herbs, olive oil, and the right amount of salt may be all that’s really needed.

  • Lisa

    Made the soup today. I did add salt! And since I don’t care for basil (nor did I have any ) I grated pecorino on top and it was wonderful.

  • Greg Liddle

    Just add water – I had to smile at this concept. But you’re right, of course – the simplest ingredients are often best, and can you get any simpler than H2O? (But when it comes to purity, is your supplier important..?)


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