Gazpacho, modern or ancient, either is a breeze

August 24, 2015

Tomatoes provide the base, and vinegar and olive oil are very important, but the rest is up to you. Try bell peppers, hot chilies, cucumber, onion, garlic and assorted herbs.

If youíre my age or older (I like to tell people that Iím in my late, LATE, LATE thirties), youíll no doubt agree with me that things arenít what they used to be. Remember rotary phones? OMG (as the kids like to text), if I need to figure out an app on my cellphone, I just hand it to my 9-year-old son.

Todayís topic, the cold, tomato-based vegetable soup known as gazpacho, isnít what it used to be, either. Fortunately, unlike my phone, in its modern form, gazpacho is simple, even without my sonís help.


Well, itís summer. And summer means tomatoes (or, as we used to say back in North Carolina: "ímaters"). Lots and lots of plump, juicy tomatoes, bursting from our gardens and farmers markets. Gazpacho is a quick, delicious, healthy way to use up some of the gajillions of pounds of tomatoes we always have this time of year.


As I mentioned earlier, the soup that most of us know as gazpacho is red with fresh tomatoes. Its origins lie in Andalusia, a region in southern Spain down near Gibraltar way. Sometimes referred to as a cross between a soup and a salad because of its many other fresh vegetables, gazpachoís origins reach back centuries. Some scholars trace it to the Moors, who occupied Spain from the 8th through the 13th centuries. Others place it back even further, to the Romans who invaded in 218 B.C.

As with pretty much all other so-called peasant foods, such as meatloaf, ratatouille and (insert your favorite dish here), there are probably nearly as many versions of gazpacho as there are cooks who make it. Hereís the crazy thing, though. You know how we think of gazpacho as being a tomato-based soup? And, you know how we were just saying how it goes back hundreds and hundreds of years to Spain? Well, think about this, Prep Schooby Do:

The tomato is native to the Americas. It didnít get to Spain until the 1500s, when Spanish conquistadors brought it back with them from their adventures with the Aztecs. (That seems like a fair trade, doesnít it? The Aztecs gave the conquistadors a delicious food that would become a major influence on their cuisine, while the conquistadors gave the Aztecs epidemics and annihilation. "Thanks for the Ďmaters, Montezuma. Have some smallpox.")

So, if tomato gazpacho is a modern invention, what was it before? Well, the original versions were probably more white or green than red, thickened with almonds and stale bread, flavored with garlic, olive oil and vinegar. (See the accompanying delicious recipe from my Kendall College colleague, chef Brendan McDermott. Itís probably pretty close to some of the original versions.)

Weíll focus on the modern version, though, simply because itís so common and so very, very delicious. Start with ripe, red tomatoes from your garden or your local market. The other vegetables are up to you, and their color doesnít really matter. Bell pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic are typical. If you like some heat, toss in a jalapeno or other chili pepper or a few drops of your favorite hot sauce.

Fresh herbs are nice, too, like basil, thyme, oregano or cilantro. Other people use a bit of ground cumin. Remember, youíre in charge. Just donít forget to add salt. Start with a little, then taste as you add successively more until itís perfectly seasoned.

As for the method, back in the day it used to involve lots of pounding with a mortar and pestle to get a decent puree. Fortunately for us, getting a decent puree is another thing thatís not what it used to be. Now we just pulse everything in a blender or food processor. Bzzzz, bzzzz, bzzzz. Done. Hereís a little more structure:

Blanch and shock a couple pounds-ish of ripe, red tomatoes. Peel them, cut them in half around their equators and squeeze out the seeds. Give them a rough chop. This is called tomato concasse ("KON kuh sayí).

Throw the concasse in your food processor along with a cut-up bell pepper or two, some chopped onion, a clove or two of garlic and a peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber. Add any fresh herbs or hot chilies that you want along with a splash of vinegar (cider vinegar, sherry vinegar, red wine vinegarÖwhatever you have will work) and two or three splashes of extra-virgin olive oil. You also can throw in a slice of stale bread that you soaked in water and squeezed dry. Pulse the mixture until itís smooth and soupy. Like soup.

If itís too thick, add some canned tomato juice or chicken broth (which would mean itís no longer vegetarian, of course, but it thins the soup just fine).

Season to taste with salt, then chill it for an hour or so.

Serve it in cold bowls garnished with a small dice of whatever vegetables you put in the soup along with a spoonful of extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over the top. Yum.



Prep: 30 minutes

Chill: 2 hours or more

Makes: 12 servings

Recipe from chef Brendan McDermott of Kendall College. Adjust the amount of garlic to your taste. It should be the kick to this dish. For the breadcrumbs, use two 1 pound loaves of stale rustic bakery bread. Tear into pieces, then buzz in a food processor to create breadcrumbs.

4 cups raw cashews (20 ounces)

14 medium cloves garlic

8 cups fresh breadcrumbs (white or sourdough)

2 quarts ice water

1/2 cup white wine or Champagne vinegar

1 to 2 cups extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste

1 tablespoon kosher or sea salt

Pulse cashews, garlic and breadcrumbs in a food processor until smooth. Add water, vinegar and olive oil until fully incorporated. Add salt. Adjust seasoning as needed. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve in a cold bowl.

Note: As the soup sits, it may thicken; add water and season accordingly.

Nutrition information per serving: 664 calories, 38 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 64 g carbohydrates, 16 g protein, 814 mg sodium, 3 g fiber



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