It’s A Soup! It’s A Drink! Either Way, Gazpacho Is Summer
Eat more vegetables? You know you should, but it isn’t always easy. These bright summer days, however, there’s a quick, easy and delicious way to add a boatload of fresh vegetables to your table.
Gazpacho, spicy chilled Mediterranean tomato soup, is just the thing for hot summer days, when farmers markets and produce stands are bulging with deep red and juicy tomatoes. In southern Spain, where I learned to make this, cooks keep a big jug of it in the refrigerator at all times — ready for a snack or a cool beginning to a meal.
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The best thing about it? No cooking at all is required — just boiling water to help skin the tomatoes. You will, however, need some sort of blender or food processor for the best and easiest results. Even a handheld blender, sometimes called a stick blender, can do the trick if you’re patient.
Should it be chunky, like a liquid salad, or smooth enough to sip as a drink? You decide. Make it one way this week and another way next week. And vary the ingredients too. Add more peppers and cucumbers, or make it very garlicky, or spice it up with an exotic chili, like Aleppo or Turkish red pepper, or piment d’Espelette from southwest France, or smoky merkén, a spicy mixture from Chile.
Variety is the spice
Once you’ve made the soup and set it to chill in the refrigerator, think about how to serve it. Maybe in tall glasses with a slice of lemon or lime, something you can sip like a gin and tonic or a glass of iced tea. Or in deep bowls with a garnish as simple as a scattering of chopped fresh parsley and basil, or small croutons cut from a slice of stale bread and fried until crisp and brown in a little olive oil.
In Spain, gazpacho often is served with a sprinkle of chopped hard-boiled egg and minuscule cubes of Spain’s favorite ham, jamon serrano, on top. Alternatively, think about frying a few strips of bacon until very crisp and then crumbling them over the top of the cold soup.
The most important ingredient is the tomatoes, and there you must select ripe, red, juicy ones — otherwise the soup will have no flavor. (Cooked or canned tomatoes simply will not do it.) Sometimes I skin them and sometimes I don’t bother. (To skin tomatoes, simply bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Drop in two or three tomatoes at a time and simmer for about 15 seconds, then transfer with a slotted spoon to a colander in the sink. When all the tomatoes are done, you’ll find the skins slip off easily with the help of a paring knife.) Core out the center white parts and cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces.
Season the soup as you make it but, because chilling mutes flavors, be prepared to add more seasoning before you serve it up.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
3 pounds ripe, red tomatoes, peeled if you wish and chopped coarsely
2 to 3 garlic cloves, chopped
½ medium red onion, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, seeded and chopped
½ long, skinny “English” cucumber, seeded and chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons aged wine vinegar, preferably sherry vinegar
1 slice stale, country-style bread, 2 inches thick
½ cup cold water
1 teaspoon ground cumin, or more to taste
Pinch of ground red chili pepper, or more to taste
Pinch of sugar
Unless your blender or food processor is very large, you may find this easier to do in two batches.
1. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, onion and cucumber and process or blend to purée thoroughly. With the lid ajar, while you continue to process, add the olive oil and the vinegar.
2. Tear the bread into small chunks. (Remove crusts if they are very tough.) Soak the chunks in cold water. When the bread is soaked through, gently squeeze out the excess water and add the soaked bread to the pureéd vegetables, along with cumin and cayenne. Process to incorporate everything very thoroughly.
3. If you’ve done this in two batches, combine the two in a jug or a bowl and taste again for seasoning. Add salt and a pinch of sugar to bring out the flavors of the tomatoes, and more cumin and/or chili pepper if you wish. You could also add a bit more vinegar if it seems necessary. The soup should have a nice balance between sweet and tart.
4. Keep the soup, covered, in the refrigerator for at least half an hour, or until ready to serve. Taste once more before serving and adjust the seasoning. If it seems too thick, stir in a little ice-cold water with a few ice cubes until it is thin enough to serve.
5. Garnish the soup if you wish with chopped herbs (cilantro, parsley, or basil are good), or chopped hard-boiled egg and finely diced ham, or with a handful of small croutons fried in a little extra-virgin olive oil until crisp and brown.
Variation: Gazpacho has been called, rightly, a liquid salad, so why not make it into a salad? Years ago in an old Gourmet magazine, I came across directions for making a gazpacho salad for a picnic, layering all the principle ingredients in a very tall Mason jar, then pouring over a dressing made from the olive oil, vinegar, cumin, red pepper, salt and sugar. The vegetables steeped in the dressing while we made our way to a picnic spot on the coast north of Beirut and were perfectly seasoned by the time they were served.
Top photo: Tomatoes and a pepper. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins