The air here just turned crisp tonight after an endless heat wave. There are still tomatoes on the vine and at the Farmer’s Market, but not for long. It’s time to capitalize on the best produce of the season and make the queen of cold soups: Gazpacho.
This classic chilled Spanish soup of cucumber, tomato, bell pepper, onion, and olive oil is crisp, floral and refreshing, with no cooking required. I learned this recipe from Sena (known to me still as Mama, to be honest), my wonderful host-mother who taught me so many things during my year in Spain as a 16-year-old exchange student. Nothing is more refreshing on a hot day, especially when no one feels like cooking.
Gather an assortment of tomatoes; I like to combine red, yellow, and green heirloom varieties. Make sure you use one green pepper, as they are less mature (therefore less sweet) than their colorful friends. They bring certain bite to the soup, which balances the sweet tomatoes nicely. Wash and roughly chop your produce. No need to peel or seed anything but the onions and garlic; you’ll strain these out towards the end. Make sure you have a conical or mesh strainer (my strainer of choice here is the dubiously named China Cap, which has larger holes than its more sneakily named cousin, the chinois), a pitcher to store and serve the soup, and some very good olive oil for a finishing drizzle. A loaf of crusty bread and some cheese will come in handy here, too.
The soup starts with garlic, olive oil, a raw egg and a dough of sorts made of white bread mushed up with some vinegar. The egg emulsifies the Gazpacho, and I can understand why some cooks wouldn’t feel comfortable using it. If you go with the raw egg, be extremely careful about two things: washing the egg shell before you crack it, and keeping the soup cold until the moment you serve it. Potentially harmful bacteria reside on the shell of the egg (think: chicken butt), but the interior is practically sterile. If you wash your egg well with hot, soapy water prior to use, you reduce the already low risk of food borne illness. As with any raw prepared food that you won’t be serving right away, always keep it cold to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
A good blender is helpful here. A food processor or immersion blender will do in a pinch, but a powerful blender capable of making smoothies and purees (I use a Vitamix) works very well. Once the ingredients are combined, blend them until you have a smooth liquid. I take this a step further by straining our larger particles of skins and seeds. If your blender is so-so, you’ll spend too much time forcing the soup through the strainer and you’ll lose too much of the vegetable material that might be broken down a bit further by a more powerful appliance.
Taste your Gazpacho. Add salt and/or Sherry vinegar as you like, but be conservative. As your soup chills, the flavors will settle and cohere, and you can season it again right before you serve it. Allow your Gazpacho to chill for at least 3 hours before you serve it.
- 1 clove raw garlic, peeled.
- 1 raw egg, the shell washed with hot soapy water before you crack it (omit this if you like).
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- white part of 2 slices of bread, crusts removed.
- 2-3 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 1 white onion, peeled and quartered.
- 6-8 ripe tomatoes, quartered.
- 1 medium cucumber, roughly chopped.
- 1 red bell pepper, stemmed and quartered (remove the seeds if it's easy).
- 1 green bell pepper, prepared the same as the red one.
- salt to taste
- sherry vinegar to taste
- olive oil to finish
Combine the white bread and the vinegar, mashing them together to make a pasty dough.
Place the vinegar dough in the blender container, along with the olive oil and the garlic clove.
Blend briefly to combine.
With the blender running, add the chopped vegetables a few at a time.
Blend the soup until no large pieces remain.
Season with salt and vinegar, blend a bit more, and taste it again.
Strain through a conical strainer or a mesh sieve.
Chill for about 3 hours, and check the seasoning again.
Adjust as necessary, and keep the soup chilled until you serve it.
Drizzle each portion with extra virgin olive oil before serving.
Garnish with finely chopped chives (This is optional. I just had some in my garden.)