|Photo by Elaine Armstrong|
I fell in love with gazpacho on a trip to Spain. It's a chilled red vegetable soup that's available everywhere in that country--and everywhere I ate, I ordered some.
Each restaurant had its own way of making it. Some gazpachos were smooth as cream. Some were full of chunky vegetables. Most came with optional toppings served on the side: chopped herbs, diced veggies, crumbled hard-boiled eggs, even sliced avocadoes. All were good.
You can Google gazpacho and find any number of recipes, or you can play with the principal ingredients and make up your own. The only thing you must do is use fresh, ripe (but not overripe) ingredients. You can sometimes get away with dumping tired old veggies into a hot soup, but that will not work with gazpacho. The flavor depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients.
Fortunately, this time of year everything you need is abundant and cheap. Or free, if you have a generous neighbor with a green thumb (those are her veggies in the photo).
Here's what you need, to start:
- A blender or a food processor
- One or two medium-to-large tomatoes for each serving (you don't need to peel them)
- A cucumber or two (you don't need to peel them either, though I usually do)
- A clove of garlic or two (don't go hog wild here; I've found the garlic's flavor is enhanced if I soften the cloves for about 5 seconds in the microwave before adding them)
- Olive oil (just a dollop--or drizzle it on top of the soup just before serving)
- Something tangy: sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar, or lemon juice (start with about a teaspoon per serving)
- Salt and pepper (I use a pinch of red [cayenne])
Whiz it all in your blender or food processor. If it's too thick, add water. If it's too thin, tear up a slice of bread and blend it in. Taste it until you like it. You can do this in 5 minutes, once you get the hang of it. Prepare the soup before you leave for work, refrigerate it, and enjoy it with--or for--dinner.
You can make a meal of gazpacho by serving it with chewy bread and manchego, a sheep's-milk cheese from central Spain (available at a reasonable price from Trader Joe's). In Spain, you'd probably have it with a small glass of cold, dry sherry (fino or manzanilla, not the syrupy stuff). Or you might try a dry rosé or crisp white wine.
- Add a red (not green!) bell pepper to the mix, or top the soup with finely diced yellow bell pepper
- Add a little onion to the mix, or top the soup with chopped scallion or green onions
- Add your favorite herbs to the mix, or top the soup with chopped herbs or a small sprig of basil leaves
- Add other fresh vegetables and see what happens.
- Vary the consistency. Spin it smooth in the blender, leave it coarse in the food processor. Or try this: spin the tomatoes and garlic in the blender until very smooth; then add the other ingredients and pulse to chop.
- If you forget to make the soup in the morning, you can spin it in the blender with a few ice cubes and eat it instantly when you get home. Not quite as good, but good enough!