Friday, July 5, 2013

Intercontinental Recipe Request: Gazpacho!

Friend Josh called from Amsterdam this morning to ask me for my gazpacho recipe, a summer favorite in the Cohen house. I claim no expertise with this historic Andalusian soup -- my travels have never taken me to Spain to get an in-person lesson in its preparation -- but, I have fallen in love with its wholesome goodness, freshness, vibrancy, and its special quality of being both light and hearty, tangy and creamy. Through some study and trial and error, I have arrived at the recipe below. I hope that it approximates the lively original; I know it works well for us. Throughout the summer you will find me enjoying gazpacho for dinner on a hot night or in a big mug for a working lunch in front of the easel. (Right: a light dinner of gazpacho, grilled, marinated octopus, olives and strawberries.)

This recipe owes its bones to Jose Andres and spain-recipes.com

A tip: Although gazpacho is in no way a fussy soup -- being born as a portable and filling workman's lunch all the way back in Roman times -- it is good to keep in mind that it is a raw concoction and it is at its best when your ingredients are the best you can find. This is the time to splurge on a delicious, good quality Spanish olive oil and a good sherry. Search for the ripest vegetables.

Equipment:
  • Blender
  • 2 large bowls
  • large kitchen strainer
  • wooden spoon
  • large pitcher for serving/storing soup

Ingredients for the soup:
  • About three pounds of the most ripe tomatoes you can find
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 small bell pepper (OR -- not traditional, but my choice: several serrano peppers)
  • 1/2 c. Oloroso Sherry
  • 1/4 c. sherry vinegar
  • 3/4 c Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 slice, or a couple of ounces, of stale bread
  • large pinch kosher or sea salt -- to taste

Ingredients for the garnish:
  • a tiny dice of cucumbers, red and green peppers
  • a splash of olive oil
  • sea salt to taste

Directions:

Parboil the tomatoes, nestling them into a large pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds, just until the tomatoes' skins loosen and break open. Set the tomatoes aside until they are cool enough to handle.

Peel and seed the cucumber and cut into large chunks. Seed the green pepper and chop coarsely. Peel the garlic. Break the bread into 2-inch chunks.

When they are cooled, peel and core the tomatoes, removing the fibrous stem area. I do this over my blender carafe because I want to catch all the juice of the tomatoes. Many recipes call for the cook to seed the tomatoes at this point, but I hate to lose the flavorful "jelly" that holds the seeds, and because we are going to strain the soup, I leave the seeds in and put the whole tomatoes into the blender. It is okay to pack them tightly into the blender carafe. Puree the tomatoes.

Now, unless you have an extra-large professional blender, your blender carafe will be completely full and you will have to make room for the rest of your ingredients. You will have to create the soup in batches. So, pour half of your tomato puree into a large bowl and set aside.

Next, add the rest of your soup ingredients to the tomato puree that is left in your blender carafe. Salt liberally. (Remember, you are salting for the whole batch, which will include the tomato puree you just set aside.) Blend all your ingredients into a thick pink puree.

Set a strainer above a large clean bowl and pour in about half of the carafe of blended soup for straining. Work the soup through the strainer using a wooden spoon. Continue stiring the soup through the stainer -- occasionally scraping the outside sides and bottom of the strainer -- until all you have left in the strainer is a dry paste of seeds and solids from the vegetables. Discard the paste and rinse the strainer. Pour your strained soup into your pitcher.

Return to the remaining tomato-only puree and pour it into the soup mixture left in your blender carafe and blend to mix. Repeat the straining procedure above until all your soup has been strained.

When all your soup is in the pitcher, stir well to mix the batches and chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes -- 2 hours is better.

To serve, pour individual servings into bowls and dress with a little of the garnishes listed above.

This recipe makes several servings - and will stay delicious in the refrigerator for about 5 days. After a while, it will separate in the pitcher, but a quick stir makes it as good as new.

Comer con gusto!