Turn Extra Zucchini Into a Summery Soup in Just 20 Minutes

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[Photographs and video: J. Kenji López-Alt]

If you've ever grown your own zucchini, you've probably had the same problem I've had: There's just way too much of it. Nobody grows pounds and pounds of zucchini because they want to make great zucchini bread. Zucchini bread exists solely for the purpose of using up all that excess zucchini we get each summer. The magic of zucchini bread is that it doesn't feel forced. Nobody questions why there's zucchini in there; they just enjoy it.

Here, then, I offer a second recipe that uses up a ton of great summer zucchini without figuratively shoving it down our throats, though one might literally want to do so after tasting it.

The great thing about this zucchini-basil soup is that it cooks so darn quickly. Zucchini is a very watery vegetable, with a weak, almost spongy structure that breaks down rapidly during cooking. This is frequently an obstacle when you're preparing zucchini, but here, it's a positive: It means we can cook the zucchini until it's tender enough to blend, while retaining its bright green color for a soup that's both tasty and attractive.

I start by sautéing some leeks and celery in extra-virgin olive oil. A lot of people will tell you not to cook with extra-virgin olive oil, but, as we've seen time and time again, with mildly flavored dishes like this, sautéing in extra-virgin olive oil will make a significant difference in the final flavor.

Once the leeks and celery are tender, I add a few cloves of minced garlic, which I sauté until fragrant, then a pound and a half of zucchini. If you want to keep your relationship with overgrown zucchini pure, you can use those giant ones you find toward the end of the summer. But if you prefer a soup that tastes a little better, go for smaller, denser zucchini, which have less water and more flavor.

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I like to add the basil in two separate batches, which produces a layered flavor. The first handful I add with the zucchini, before covering everything with water and letting it simmer until the zucchini is tender. The second handful I add right at the end, just before I purée the whole pot's worth with a handheld immersion blender.

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The combination of garlic, basil, and olive oil means the soup ends up tasting deliciously like pesto, but with zucchini's mild vegetal flavor holding it together and making it a meal. Not that I couldn't sip down a bowl of straight-up pesto, mind you.

From start to finish, it takes just about 20 minutes or so. That's good news, because we're gonna need all the free time we can get to hatch creative ways to use the rest of the summer's zucchini.

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