by Cyndy Crist
Although we’re creeping closer to fall, it’s still cold soup season as far as I’m concerned, and a number of recent blog posts and foodie e-mails have made it clear that I’m not the only one who thinks so. Sure, the nights may be getting a little cooler and the mid-summer humidity may be diminishing, but there are undoubtedly still be plenty of warm days ahead. Whether you’re a working adult with kids back in school or simply a busy person, having a pitcher or bowl of cold soup on hand, ready to pour or spoon out for a quick meal, can be a real life-saver.
Happily, cold soups are relatively quick and easy to make and will stay fresh for days in the refrigerator. Gazpacho is one of the cold soups with the longest traditions, and there are many ways to make it. It is interesting to read the array of opinions about what comprises “real” gazpacho. For example, although most of us today likely think of it as a tomato-based soup, its origins in Spain pre-date the arrival in Europe of tomatoes, native to Mexico and Central America. Instead, bread was the essential ingredient, pounded with water, vinegar, salt, garlic, and olive oil. On the other hand, I had a good friend who spent years in Spain and married a Spaniard who swore that bread had no place in gazpacho. Go figure!
Regardless of its history, today it appears to be made most commonly from tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and seasonings (and sometimes bread). Because its flavor rests primarily on the quality of its fresh ingredients, I wait to make it until they all are available from local growers. The recipe I have used most often is from the first Barefoot Contessa cookbook. It’s straight-forward and calls for standard ingredients.
I vary it by using sherry vinegar, replacing tomato juice with more fresh tomatoes, and adding a little Piment d’Espelette (Basque red pepper) for a bit of spice. Sometimes I’ll adjust the quantity of tomatoes I use based on what kind I’ve been able to find and how meaty or juicy they are. And if I’m unable to find English or hothouse cucumbers, I partially peel tougher-skinned varieties. You’ll find the complete recipe below along with notes about how I tweak it.
I like using red peppers and red onions, as specified in Ina’s recipe, which give the gazpacho a lovely deep, tomato-red color. But my imagination was sparked by a recent post on that lovely-to-look-at blog by Beatrice Peltre, La Tartine Gourmande. She wrote about making gazpacho using only yellow or orange tomatoes and peppers, and the same week, Food and Wine magazine’s “The Dish” included a recipe for Tangy Green Zebra gazpacho. So I decided to try making my own rainbow of soups.
The Tangy Green Zebra recipe called for lime juice, mint, cilantro, jalapeno, and avocado in addition to the traditional tomato, cucumber, onion, and garlic. I didn’t have any cilantro on hand and I had only bought a green bell pepper, so I added a bit of lime zest and splash of hot sauce to “up” the tang, and I decided to hold the avocado until the soup was served. From my initial tasting, I found this one refreshing and really liked what the lime and mint added. I do want to try it with avocado and cilantro, perhaps serving it with corn chips and a dollop of sour cream.
In making the yellow gazpacho, I decided to follow the “citrus for acid” approach and substituted fresh lemon juice for vinegar. I also decided to peel the cucumber before pulsing it in the food processor to maintain a purer yellow color. Beyond that, I used what I think of as the typical ingredients – tomatoes, pepper, onion, garlic, and olive oil in addition to the previously mentioned ingredients. This one has the lightest flavor of the four gazpachos I made and is very refreshing. I think it would be tasty garnished with chopped, boiled shrimp or hard-boiled eggs.
For the orange gazpacho, I decided to leave the peel on the cucumber to see how it would look, and I frankly liked the little flecks of green, which gave it a fresh and hearty appearance. For the acid in this one, I decided to use Melfor Condiment, an Alsacian vinegar that is made using honey and herbs and is slightly lighter and sweeter than an average vinegar. I thought it gave the soup a lovely flavor and that overall this one came a little closer in taste than the others to “typical” gazpacho. La Tartine Gourmande showed it garnished with flakes of crab, and I think a crumbly white cheese would be tasty, too.
There are two other variations on gazpacho that I want to try but haven’t yet. One is gazpacho made using watermelon. I think I’d like the sweetness the melon would impart, as well as the beautiful color, and suspect its texture would somewhat mimic that of cucumber. A watermelon-tomato gazpacho recipe offered on-line in “The Dish” included hot chili pepper, garlic, and red wine vinegar along with the watermelon and tomatoes and called for serving the soup with a dollop of crab salad made using lemon juice, buttermilk, olive oil, avocado, and poblano pepper.
The other variation that intrigues me, and which could be made any time of year, is white gazpacho. Most recipes I’ve seen include green grapes, almonds, and bread, and one found in the same edition of “The Dish” as the green and watermelon gazpachos included cooked cauliflower, bread, pine nuts, garlic, shallots, cucumber, almonds, sherry vinegar, and olive oil. Although this one would, in both flavor and texture, be the most unlike tomato gazpacho, I think it’s worth a try.
One more thought about gazpacho. My husband likes big bowls of it, while I prefer gazpacho served in a smaller quantity. And going really small, when I entertain large groups of people, I love to serve soup shots. They require no silverware, look really beautiful on a tray, and give me an opportunity to use the array of small glasses I’ve acquired over the years. But if you prefer, by all means, serve and eat it in large bowls. Gazpacho is light, refreshing, and healthy, so there’s no reason to be stingy with it. Eat hearty!
From The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
- 2 hothouse cucumbers, halved and seeded, but not peeled
- 3 red peppers, cored and seeded
- 8 plum tomatoes
- 2 red onions
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 46 ounces tomato juice (6 cups)
- ½ cup white wine vinegar
- ½ cup good olive oil
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not overprocess!
- After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop. Serves 8-10
Cook’s Notes: I coarsely chop the garlic and process it with the onions. I substitute sherry vinegar for the white wine vinegar and add a teaspoon or so of Piment d’Espelette. I taste for seasoning before adding the full quantity of salt, as I find that Ina’s recipes are sometimes a bit salty for my taste.
You can find Piment d’Espelette and Melfor Condiment French vinegar (as mentioned earlier in the post) at Amazon.com as well as from specialty food purveyors.