Thursday 3 September 2015
It's late summer and tomatoes are at their very best right now. This recipe is fantastic for using them up in a very fresh and flavourful way: gazpacho. This is a cold Spanish soup traditionally made of blended tomatoes, bell pepper, cucumber, onion and garlic. It's sensationally easy, inexpensive to put together and has an exquisitely refreshing flavour profile. We usually cook ingredients to draw out as much flavour as possible. The only things that are cooked in this recipe are the light toasting of cumin seeds and a little fried bread for garnish. Because most of the ingredients are used raw here you taste them differently. When you take in a spoonful of gazpacho you can taste each individual ingredient one after the other as it coats the inside of your mouth. The flavours are very clean and refreshing but surprisingly complex. It's very adaptable too if you want to personalize it your way. There are lots of opportunities to be creative with this one.
I used heirloom tomatoes for this gazpacho. Heirlooms are usually the funky, sometimes ugly, looking ones that range in unusual shapes and colours. They're not always pretty and they don't have a long shelf life, but they are the most delicious kind of tomato you can eat, especially this time of year. If you can't get heirlooms, any vine tomato will work just fine. For a sweeter, tangier gazpacho you could use little cherry tomatoes or a combination of varieties. Different colours of tomatoes will produce a variety of different coloured gazpachos. So you needn't worry if yours looks different than this one.
Before we get on with the recipe, here are a couple of useful tips.
This recipe calls for a clove of garlic. It too is raw. Raw garlic, as you know, can have a very powerful flavour. One method of toning that down which I really recommend you do is cut your clove of garlic in half lengthwise. This will expose a visibly separate core in the middle of a clove. You can use a paring knife to remove it. It doesn't put up a big fight. Discard the core as it is what harbours a lot of that sharp, strong flavour.
This recipe also uses a bit of stale white bread which is traditional but not necessary. It just gives a bit of body to the soup which I prefer. Could you use fresh bread instead? Yes, but only in a pinch. Stale bread will work much better because it will be much more absorbent. The amount of bread you may decide to use is at your discretion. I took a thick slice out of a loaf of French bread and cut it into 1-inch cubes. For the croutons I used a smaller slice to make 1-centimetre cubes. I sautéed them in olive oil with a pinch of sea salt over medium heat for a couple of minutes or until they were lightly golden brown. They make a great topping. Some versions of gazpacho are topped with finely diced peppers, onion, cucumber, etc... if you're looking for something a little healthier.
The trick to making a good gazpacho is keeping everything chilled throughout the blending process up until serving time. If at any point the gazpacho comes up to room temperature or even warmer, the flavours will begin to muddy up and won't be as fresh. All you have to do is add a couple of ice cubes in the blender. This keeps the friction of the blending process from warming up the soup. It's not uncommon for gazpacho to be served with an ice cube or in a bowl sitting in crushed ice. Have some ice cubes on hand and use them as required. Even though this is a dish you need to keep cold, like most other soups the flavours will still gain complexity the longer it sits. You could make this a day or even two ahead of serving if you keep it refrigerated. Talk about convenience!
2-3 heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/2 Spanish onion, roughly chopped (red onion works nicely too)
1/3 large cucumber, roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
1 clove garlic, cut open and core removed
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1" thick slice of stale white bread, cut into cubes
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp cumin, preferably lightly toasted and freshly ground
1 cup cold water
2 ice cubes (plus extra as needed)
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
If you can toast and grind your own cumin you will get the best possible flavour. All you need to do is warm a dry pan over medium heat and add whole cumin seeds. Keep them constantly moving in the pan so they do not burn. As soon as you can smell the cumin (less than a minute) remove them from the heat and grind into a powder with a mortar and pestle.
Vegetables differ in size so this recipe is just a rough guideline. The photo below will give you an idea of what proportions you're aiming for. Roughly chop your veggies. They're just going to be blended into a purée anyway so this is not a task that requires a master level of knife skills.
It's literally just a matter of combining all of your ingredients (with just 2 ice cubes) into a blender and puréeing everything until it forms an evenly smooth texture.
This next step is optional but I like to pass the puréed mixture through a mesh sieve. This makes the end product even smoother and catches any larger bits of veggies.
I used a spatula to work the gazpacho through the sieve. I placed a couple of extra ice cubes in the sieved product while I did that just to keep it extra cold.
Before serving give your gazpacho a taste and adjust the seasonings. Ask yourself if it needs any more salt, pepper, sherry vinegar, cumin or maybe even some hot sauce you might have on hand. Adjust until it is just right. Now you're ready to serve or keep refrigerated for up to 2 days.
You can serve this as is, preferably with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, but there are lots of other things you can do. Fresh cilantro or parsley will also work great with this gazpacho. You may choose to dice up some extra veggies to put on top as I mentioned. It's all up to you!
There are lots of ways you can tweak and personalize this recipe. Some people prefer to peel their cucumbers first, omit any hot chili peppers, double or triple the hot chili peppers, omit the stale bread, use a touch of balsamic or red wine vinegar, fresh lime juice, a mixture of other bell peppers, etc...
There's nothing quite like a refreshing gazpacho on these last few hot summer days. I love me some gazpacho. I remember the first time I ever tried it I didn't expect it to be as good as it is. It seems too simple but it's so fresh and flavourful. It does in-season heirloom tomatoes the justice they deserve. This makes a fantastic appetizer for your outdoor, end-of-summer parties. Perhaps you could follow it up with a Spanish entrée featuring your own romesco sauce which is kind of similar in concept to gazpacho.
I hope you enjoyed this recipe. Be sure to visit again soon for much more!