The texture is always smooth and light. It is not the watered-down salsa or grainy sludge often served in the United States under the name of gazpacho, but an emulsion of olive oil in vegetable juice and vinegar that is light and fluffy on the tongue.
SEVILLE, Spain — Asking around for the best gazpacho recipe in Seville is like asking around for the best smoothie recipe in Los Angeles.
There is no recipe. If you live there, you already know how to make it. It’s just a question of figuring out how you like it.
To accomplish that, I ate gazpacho literally every time it was offered on a recent swing through Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. (Seville is the capital.) It is even sold in containers at the airport, packaged like coconut water.
In Andalusia, gazpacho is more drink than food: something to sip when heat and hunger strike at the same time. From June to August, midday temperatures soar above 100 degrees nearly every day; it is simply too hot to eat. But when I was craving cold, craving salt and craving lunch all at the same time, gazpacho was there.
Most Read Life Stories
- We scoured 4 Seattle-area neighborhood doughnut shops to find a great maple bar, a to-die-for chocolate glaze and more
- As we near 6 months in Washington’s stay-home order, mental health experts warn that things may get worse
- What do Pacific Northwesterners do when COVID nixes wedding plans? Elope, outdoor adventure-style
- Reopening phases by county: What you can and can't do as Washington state reopens from coronavirus lockdown
- Far-flung fans, rejoice — Seattle-area burger favorite Dick's is getting a food truck
It is constantly available: in home kitchens, refrigerated in glass pitchers; in restaurants, served with a couple of ice cubes in chilled earthenware tumblers before every meal; at tapas bars, bubbling away in countertop cooling machines the same way that hot-dog joints in the States keep the lemonade dispenser on display.
After dozens of excellent gazpachos, I arrived at some ground rules. Other regions of Spain have other rules, but Andalusia has the hottest weather and has been making gazpacho the longest, so I like this style best for summer.
The texture is always smooth and light, with a mouth feel similar to that of whole milk. It is not the watered-down salsa or grainy sludge often served in the United States under the name of gazpacho, but an emulsion of fat (olive oil) in liquid (vegetable juice and vinegar) that is light and fluffy on the tongue and a fantastic conductor of flavor, just like vinaigrette or hollandaise.
To achieve this, the copious water content of cucumbers and tomatoes is released by the blending process, turning solid vegetables to liquid soup. Any chunks of vegetables are blitzed out of memory, a task for which today’s ravenous, high-wattage blenders are well suited. If your blender is less powerful than a sports car, you will definitely want to strain your gazpacho through a food mill or sieve, or the texture simply won’t be smooth enough.
Andalusian gazpacho has a creamy orange-pink color rather than a clear lipstick red. This is because of the large quantity of olive oil that is mandatory in making delicious gazpacho, rather than take-it-or-leave it gazpacho. The emulsion of red tomato juice, palest green cucumber juice and golden olive oil produces the right color.
The olive oil is not an afterthought, although the ripe summer vegetables try to steal the show. Olive oil is what makes gazpacho more than vegetable juice. It is what makes gazpacho silky and satisfying. Any extra-virgin olive oil will do, but it is more than a nicety to seek out a golden, peppery Spanish oil; you will be using enough so that the taste of oil comes through in the finished dish.
It does not have fancy garnishes — no tiny vegetable cubes, no wee croutons. Those, I was told by a neighbor at a tapas bar in the coastal town Sanlúcar de Barrameda, are affectations long ago adopted by restaurants patronized by tourists who insisted on treating gazpacho as a soup. They preferred to eat it from bowls, with spoons, and expected it to look — the gentleman said with infinite scorn — French. Many Spanish home cooks do it now, but it’s really not necessary, and rather irritating when you are drinking it from a glass.
In my favorite gazpachos here, I detected a breath of green-chili bite. This was confirmed during an impromptu lesson from Margarita del Pino, an accomplished cook in Sanlúcar whose version is the best I have tasted. Pimientos Verdes in Spain are a lot like our Italian frying peppers (aka cubanelles) or Anaheim chilies, and not much like American green bell peppers. They are less grassy, less sweet and have a slight but definite bite.
Many traditional gazpachos contain stale bread for body. But del Pino’s gazpacho doesn’t have any bread in it, on it or anywhere near it. In her kitchen, she said, bread is used to thicken gazpacho only when the tomatoes aren’t up to snuff. “If the tomatoes have good flesh, the bread is not necessary to give it body,” she told me.
She does, on occasion, add good-quality crushed canned tomatoes or thick tomato purée to improve the flavor when tomato season is not at its peak. Gazpacho thickened with a lot of bread is a different beast: Called salmorejo, it is served in bowls, thick enough to stand a spoon in, and bright orange. It is delicious and filling, especially topped with shards of jamón, but it’s not gazpacho.
Finally, a note on ingredients: Good gazpacho contains tomatoes, cucumbers, long green peppers (not bell peppers), onion, garlic, olive oil, vinegar (preferably Spanish sherry or red wine vinegar) and salt. Bread, if you insist. That’s it.
The proportions of those ingredients can vary — a friend who lives in Seville advises enlivening dull dinner parties there by asking your neighbor how many cucumbers he or she puts in gazpacho — but there is no place for cumin, or watermelon, or parsley.
Spanish cooks are notorious purists, however, and no one is watching you in your kitchen.
Makes 8 to 12 servings, about 1 quart
About 2 pounds ripe red tomatoes, cored and roughly cut into chunks
1 Italian frying (cubanelle) pepper or another long, light green pepper, such as Anaheim, cored, seeded and roughly cut into chunks
1 cucumber, about 8 inches long, peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 small mild onion (white or red), peeled and roughly cut into chunks
1 clove garlic
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, more to taste
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more to taste, plus more for drizzling
1. Combine tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions and garlic in a blender or, if using a hand blender, in a deep bowl. (If necessary, work in batches.) Blend at high speed until very smooth, at least two minutes, pausing occasionally to scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
2. With the motor running, add the vinegar and 2 teaspoons salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The mixture will turn bright orange or dark pink and become smooth and emulsified, like a salad dressing. If it still seems watery, drizzle in more olive oil until texture is creamy.
3. Strain the mixture through a strainer or a food mill, pushing all the liquid through with a spatula or the back of a ladle. Discard the solids. Transfer to a large pitcher (preferably glass) and chill until very cold, at least six hours or overnight.
4. Before serving, adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar. If soup is very thick, stir in a few tablespoons ice water. Serve in glasses, over ice if desired. A few drops of olive oil on top are a nice touch.