Saturday, August 1, 2009

CSI: Cold Soup Investigation - Gazpacho

This is among my favorite food times of year. It’s full summer, and the tomatoes are finally arriving at the markets. And one of the best ways to enjoy them, aside from simply eating them, is in gazpacho. What's not to love about this soup? Cool, refreshing, full of the bright tastes of summer, and the best part? No cooking! Could anything be better?

Originally from Andalucia, the southern region of Spain, gazpacho is traditionally made with fresh, ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, red bell peppers, garlic, onion, olive oil, water, and vinegar. The key to making great gazpacho is to use the freshest vine-ripened tomatoes you can find. I don’t recommend using heirloom tomatoes. Go for beefsteaks. They’ve got the right combination of juiciness and pulp, as well as a good balance of sugar and acid. They’ll stand up to the rest of the hearty flavors you’ll be adding to them.

As for how to prepare gazpacho, the method is simplicity itself.

Start with a 3/4"-thick slice of day-old bread. Soak in water for about 5 minutes. Roughly chop some tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, garlic and onion. Add 1/2 of the vegetables to a food processor and pulse 3 or 4 times. Squeeze out most of the water from the bread, add to the food processor, and pulse to blend. Pour into a bowl, add the rest of the chopped vegetables, drizzle on some good-quality extra virgin olive oil and some good quality red or white wine vinegar, some sea salt, and some ice water if a thinner consistency is desired. Chill for an hour or two, serve, and enjoy. How easy is that?

OK, that's the basic recipe, and while it sounds dead boring, the bright flavor and refreshing coolness make for a perfect summer supper.

Of course, there are countless ways change the nature of this simple dish, making it heartier, fancier, richer, and more nuanced.

For a smoother consistency, add all but a few tablespoons of each vegetable to a blender instead of a food processor, and puree. Chill well. In the meantime, finely mince the reserved vegetables to resemble confetti. When ready to serve, sprinkle the soup with the vegetable confetti as garnish. The result is a lovely pinkish soup with a splash of color. Not only is it visually appealing, but the contrast of textures is a pleasure to eat. Try using yellow and green peppers for an even more interesting appearance.

For deeper and more complex flavors, roast the tomatoes, peppers, garlic and onions. Cut the top third off of an entire head of garlic, sprinkle the bottom two thirds with olive oil and sea salt, wrap loosely in aluminum foil (or put it in a ceramic garlic roaster), and place in the lower third of a preheated 275 degree oven. Slice the tomatoes in half, halve the onions, toss with olive oil (extra virgin not necessary here) and sea salt, and place on a baking sheet. Place into the top half of the oven, and let roast until tomatoes are soft. Roast the peppers as described in my salade Niçoise entry. When vegetables are roasted, put into a food processor and pulse to a coarse consistency. Chill well. Toast slices of country-style bread in olive oil and float on top of the soup. Garnish with thinly sliced scallions and fresh oregano.
Want to spice tings up? Add a jalapeno, serrano, or poblano pepper instead of red bell. These can also be roasted and used in the roasted gazpacho recipe.

To add some protein, rub skinless, boneless chicken breasts with lime and cumin and let marinate for an hour. Grill and let chill. Slice on the bias, and add to bowls of gazpacho. Garnish with chopped cilantro. You can also do the same with shrimp or lobster tails for a fancier dish that will thrill dinner guests (and your family).

Don’t want to grill? Hard boil some eggs (again see my salade Niçoise entry for directions). When cool, dice. The easiest way to do this is to get out your wire egg slicer (you’ve probably got your mother’s tucked away in the back of your junk drawer) and slice the egg three times. First, along the axis. Rotate the egg 180 degrees, and slice again along the axis. Turn the egg sideways, and slice along the equator. Sprinkle on top of soup, and garnish with chopped parsley.

To any of these recipes, add a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche for a richer taste. Can’t find creme fraiche in your local grocer? No worries, it’s easy to simulate at home. Put two cups unpasteurized (or at least not ultra pasteurized) heavy cream into a clean glass jar (if you can find it, you can also use raw whole milk that still has the cream in it). Add two tablespoons of cultured buttermilk and shake to blend. Let sit out at room temperature (no more than 78 degrees) for 24 hours. Stir to blend and keep refrigerated for up to 10 days. You can use creme fraiche anywhere you’d use cream or sour cream. Try some on fresh blueberries.

For an even more refreshing twist, make a citrus gazpacho. Peel a large grapefruit and two oranges. Separate into sections and roughly chop. Put in a large bowl, add basic gazpacho, mix well and chill. Garnish with fresh mint.

Homemade gazpacho will last in the fridge for up to 10 days, or you can freeze it almost indefinitely. Thaw some out in the middle of February to remind yourself that summer isn’t really all that far away.

Enjoy!

5 comments:

  1. This soup sounds amazing. My mouth is watering.

    Two questions: What kind of bread?

    And, I don't have a food processor or a blender. Am I screwed?

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  2. Kristy:

    Good country style bread. Sullivan St. bakery has great stuff, or you can bake your own following my recipe. Barring that, you can buy a hero roll at the grocery store and let it get stale.

    Well, you're not screwed without a food processor or blender, but you're going to have to work a lot harder. You can use a box grater, and use the large holes. Cut the tomatoes in half, and rub them on the grater with the skin side toward your hand. The grater will nicely grate the flesh of the tomato, while leaving the skin behind. With the onions and cukes, again, use the large holes of the box grater to shred the veggies. Do your grating over a bowl so that you catch all the yummy liquids that will exude from the veggies.

    Have fun!

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  3. Gosh all get-up, that sounds laborious. Maybe it's time to invest in a machine. But thanks for the info!

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  4. It's not as labor intensive as it sounds, but since it's supposed to be an uncooked meal, I doubt you'd want to work up the sweat that this method will generate.

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  5. Since I just bought my favorite summer accompaniment to almost anything---fresh figs wrapped in proscuitto---I think I'll have it with your gazpacho. I love this combination, and figs and pros. are great as a dessert, appetizer, or even breakfast.

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