Hot Days, Cool Nights, Great Soup

As August has progressed, the hot, dry weather of the summer has given way to warm days followed by cool, even cold, nights. Triple digits temperatures have been replaced by days that reach the 80s, but not really beyond that. Evenings are cool enough that open windows allow extra blankets to get used while mornings arrive with a decided chill in the air. There's just a hint of the autumn yet to come in days and evenings like these. And now, with the height of the garden harvest upon us, is the perfect time to find recipes that blend the heat of the summer with the promise of chilly days to come.

In short, it's time to think about soup.

For me, the beginning of soup season means giving summer vegetables a chance to shine before the fall's root vegetables and squashes take center stage. So my nod to late summer soup this time around comes in the form of a chowder that's been kissed with just a bit of cream, is packed with great garden vegetables, and packs a lot of smoky flavor from bacon and smoked paprika. Add some tender shrimp right at the end and you've got a chowder that's giving more than a subtle nod to the season. It's enthusiastically head-banging!

I like to add a little chili oil at the table, as that allows people to add as much or as little heat to their bowls as they'd like. I also think it looks particularly pretty floating on the top of a soup bowl. This soup is hearty enough to be a meal on its own. I like to have some rolls and a glass of chilled white wine on hand, but if you wanted a garden salad as well, it would be a pretty impressive al fresco dinner option. And, like many soups, it's equally charming the next day … if you have leftovers!

Summer Shrimp and Corn Chowder

  • 4 slices smoked bacon -- cut into one-inch pieces
  • 2 cups corn kernels -- frozen will do, but fresh is best
  • 1 onion -- diced
  • 2 stalks celery -- diced
  • 1/2 red pepper -- diced
  • 2 cloves garlic -- chopped
  • 1 teaspoon chopped thyme
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large sweet potato -- peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in a little cold water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 lb. raw shrimp -- peeled and deveined
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne (or chili oil) to taste

Fry the bacon in a large heavy bottom sauce pan over medium heat and set aside on paper towels to drain. Leave the drippings in the pan for cooking the vegetables.

Raise the heat to medium-high, add the corn and let it sit in place until it chars a bit, about 8 minutes, mix it, repeat and set aside. Reduce the heat back down to medium, add the onion, celery and pepper and sauté until tender, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic, thyme, and paprika and sauté until fragrant, about a minute. Add the broth, corn, and sweet potato and simmer until the sweet potato is tender, about 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch about halfway through simmering and stir to thicken. When the sweet potatoes have softened, crush them slightly using the back of a spoon. Add the cream and shrimp, and simmer until the shrimp is cooked, about 2-3 minutes.

Season to taste and serve garnished with the reserved bacon. Drizzle with chili oil for additional heat, if desired.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 60 minutes