Turns out it's not just like eating a bowlful of salsa — and it's perfect for prime tomato time!
“Nice recipe for vichyssoise,” wrote a reader named Edward after I extolled the virtues of the classic cold potato soup earlier this summer. (It’s so much better than it sounds!) “But,” he continued — there’s usually a but — “way off base in the gazpacho department. It is as unlike eating a bowl of salsa as a well-wrought Polish sausage is unlike your average ballpark dog.”
It’s true, I did disparage the classic cold tomato soup in those salsa-terms, but I was also happy when Edward took the bait. He was the sole defender of gazpacho to get in touch, which I let him know in order to goad him a little more, along with asking him if he had a favorite recipe.
Edward professed amazement — he honestly thought he’d be “near the bottom of a very long list” of gazpacho adherents. But he was kind enough to send what he called a very traditional recipe, his own translation from the Spanish from Ángela Landa’s cookbook “A Fuego Lento.”
Gazpacho may have come to Spain from Rome way back when, but then again, there are cold soups all over the place, made with whatever’s plentiful — beets, cucumbers, the aforementioned potatoes. Gazpacho must’ve arisen as an obvious answer to an equally obvious summertime question: It’s hot, and we’re tired of salad, so what’s the next easiest, coolest way to deal with all these vegetables from the garden? Hey, also, these tomatoes are so ripe, they’re almost mush — hurry!
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Gazpacho is an eminently forgiving soup, with the ingredients and quantities more like suggestions than dictates. Tomatoes, yes, lots. But bread or no bread? It’s such a good way to use up part of a getting-old loaf, and thickens the soup so nicely, why not? Vinegar or no vinegar? Ángela Landa’s version goes without, but the cookbook from Toro Bravo in Portland calls for both Champagne and sherry vinegar — I split the difference, keeping the quantity small for a slight acidic zip, and keeping the vinegar from Spain. Green pepper or red pepper? I don’t like green peppers — they taste like peppers that really should be let to ripen to red, which is what most of them are — but if you’re a fan, do what you feel. Do you have to peel your cucumber? Absolutely not, especially if they’re thin-skinned smaller ones, and you’ll be doing one teeny-tiny part to end food waste. Egg or no egg? Recipes vary; if you’ve got one, and you’re not ovo-opposed, it just might add some richness.
Also: chunky or smooth? Both Toro Bravo and Landa take a best-of-both-worlds approach, blending the soup a bunch but reserving some of the ingredients, finely diced, to add back for texture and prettiness when serving. Toro Bravo’s chef John Gorham notes, “If you can’t get it to silky smoothness, do your best, then pass it through a sieve,” and Spanish food expert Penelope Casas agreed. With all due respect, I’m not going to spend time shoving soup through mesh — I am that lazy, especially when it’s hot. Gorham also gussies up his garnish with fried capers, which sounds lovely, but again, laziness happens.
A miniature bumper crop of the world’s tiniest Sungold tomatoes also happens on my deck this time of year, and they make an addition to the garnish that’s almost too cute (but not!). Would it be heretical to also add a big spoonful of organic sour cream? Maybe, but I tried it, and it is good. Some crabmeat, or shrimp, or avocado on top of a bowlful of gazpacho also seems pretty foolproof for an excellent summer lunch, along with a glass of cava, to stay on theme. Or Thomas Keller of the famed French Laundry says you can go ahead and augment your gazpacho with vodka, thus creating “the world’s best Bloody Mary.” Could you put croutons on top? Yes!
How cold should you serve it? Think of an old stone house on a hillside in Spain, and how back in the day, the gazpacho would’ve been cooled, but not quite chilled, in the cellar, maybe itself cooled by a stream … then serve it as cold as you damn well please.
The mishmash recipe here makes a gazpacho that’s more on the blushing side of tomato-red, both sweet and tart, smooth (enough!) and easy to eat in the heat. The fine-diced garnish gives little pops of red-pepper and cucumber crunch, plus little hel-LOs of onion (I used Walla Walla sweet — so nice — and a very fine dice). I still think it’s a bit like eating a bowlful of salsa, but, then, that’s kind of a great idea.
Suggested additions: Fried capers and/or Sungold tomatoes for the garnish, and/or a spoonful of organic sour cream on top; crabmeat, shrimp or avocado; croutons; vodka, per Thomas Keller.
¼ cup sherry vinegar
4 slices white bread (with crust)
About 6 large ripe tomatoes (about 4 cups)
2 small cucumbers, peeled (or one large one, peeled and seeds removed)
1 medium yellow or sweet onion
1 medium red pepper
2 or 3 small garlic cloves
1 egg (optional)
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or more, to taste)
1. Combine sherry vinegar and 1 cup of water in a large bowl, then add the bread, tearing it into chunks. Stir and smush the bread down into the liquid with a big spoon; repeat once or twice during next step.
2. Let the bread soak while you finely chop ingredients for the garnish: one of the tomatoes, one cucumber, about ⅓ of the onion and about ⅓ of the red pepper. Combine it all in a medium bowl and set aside.
3. Roughly chop the rest of the tomatoes, adding them and their juice to the bowl of bread (you can use kitchen shears and your hands if you don’t mind getting messy). Chop the rest of the cucumber, onion and red pepper, and add as well. Mince garlic and add. Beat egg and add. Add olive oil. Mix to combine, then blend with a hand blender, a food processor or in batches in a regular blender until as smooth as you like. Add salt to taste.
4. Refrigerate gazpacho and garnishes separately until as cool as you like. Stir to recombine, if need be, and serve, topping each bowl with garnishes, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher or sea salt.