Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Go Go Gazpacho
Can you feel it? Can you see it, right around the corner? I think I may even hear it knocking. Fall is almost here, and with a mere 68 degrees on the last day of August, New York City is poised to receive an early fall after summer's poor, dank showing. Don't get me wrong, I love fall--in fact, it's my favorite season. Fall means fashion week, which means more inspiration for those of us that are vestment-ally minded. It means hot apple cider while I peruse the greenmarket in riding boots and the return of fabulous fall scarves. But while I normally highly anticipate the arrival of all these lovely things, I haven't had the proper kind of summer that leaves me wishing for crisp fall weather and the disappearance of summer's dreaded humidity. And so last week I found myself pulling out scarves and light jackets while finally dealing with using summer tomatoes. I'd been waiting patiently if for no other reason than to make a proper gazpacho.
You see, this may sound silly to most people, but this country has a serious problem with gazpacho. It's something that is at once so incredibly simple to make and so complex in flavor that people have misunderstood and completely oversimplified it. For example, many people would characterize it as a cold tomato soup, which is true, but no more than it is a cold vegetable soup, which is actually more accurate. Gazpacho should not be a bright bold red, nor should it taste like tomatoes. It should be an orange-pink hue that verges on salmon colored. The flavor should hint of tomatoes with the distinct brightness of cucumber and the freshness of green pepper. The slight tinge of sherry vinegar should perk up the taste buds and the earthy piquancy of good, green olive oil should finish out the flavors as the soup slides down the throat. Unfortunately, what I've with few exceptions received in most American restaurants in the place of gazpacho is a cold tomato soup. While I'm all for tomato soup at any temperature, tomato soup is not gazpacho, and if you've never had the pleasure of tasting the kind of soup I'm describing, I suggest you either by a ticket to Andalucia, or make this recipe.
There is absolutely nothing complicated or special about this recipe. It's the purely traditional soup that every home in southern Spain serves, kept in a white pitcher in the fridge for easy serving and lazy afternoon snacking. Topped with a swirl of olive oil and a few bits of toasted bread and finely chopped peppers or cucumber, it's the perfect thing to eat on a blistering hot day. Cooking it couldn't be simpler in that there is no real cooking. The ratio of ingredients is just so balanced it's no wonder it's stood the test of time for so long. Just toss everything in the blender and walk away. Two minutes later you're ready to eat, unless you're a particularly fussy cook and wish to strain it, adding a mere minute to the "cooking" time. So please do think of me and my plea for a better gazpacho the next time you have some. Whether it's a good one or a bad one, I hope it leaves you wanting more, demanding more than just a chilled tomato puree. Because once you've had the good stuff, the rest of it just will not do.
2 lbs ripe red tomatoes (about 4-5 large heirlooms), roughly cut into quarters
1 small cucumber or 1/2 a large, peeled
1 bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1-2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
toasted bread croutons for garnish
1. Combine tomatoes, green pepper, garlic and 1 tablespoon of the sherry vinegar in a blender. Slowly stream in olive oil while the blender runs. Taste for salt and acidity. If your tomatoes are quite sweet, add the remaining sherry vinegar. Strain soup if desired and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.
2. Serve soup chilled, topped with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, croutons (toss diced bread in a pan with olive oil until crunchy) and diced green peppers and cucumber. Enjoy!