Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time with me in the last year and a half or so will be able to tell you that I am absolutely fascinated by Andalucía. I’d been interested in it for a while, but only peripherally so, but my obsession started when a friend and I spent our February break there during our year in Paris. All of it was wonderful, but I fell madly in love with Granada and the Alhambra; but I digress – you can read all about this at exhaustive length at the above link.
The point is that Andalucía and its influences have infiltrated all areas of my life, including, it appears, my cooking.
Last summer, I rediscovered gazpacho. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a sort of cold tomato soup which originated in Andalucía. I recently learned that the original recipe – created by invading Roman soldiers who were parched, exhausted, and in need of salt after working all day in the hot Spanish sun – was not tomato-based, but rather consisted of stale bread, garlic, olive oil, salt, and vinegar. Which, in and of itself, sounds pretty good, but rather more like an Italian appetizer than the vegetable-laden soup with which we are familiar.
My mom made gazpacho when I was a kid, and none of us really liked it, except for her, so I wrote it off for years as a weird mom thing. After learning it was from Andalucía while I was there, I felt slightly more well-disposed towards it, but never actually got around to having any while in Spain, mostly because it was not tomato season, and I’m not sure I ever actually saw it on a menu. And then, shortly after moving back to the US last summer, I was at a small café where I had what I think was cucumber carrot gazpacho. I’m not positive if that was it, but whatever variation on gazpacho it was was amazing.
Right then and there, I decided I was going to try as many different gazpachos as possible. And who knew there could be so many kinds? Since then, I’ve tried gazpachos of all different flavors, most tomato based, some with wild flavors you’d never consider; mango is one of my favorites.
This summer, I’ve decided not only to try gazpachos at restaurants, but to start making them. I started with a basic one last week (that I got from Gourmet), going back to the simple Spanish roots, before fancy chefs started getting carried away, but I promise to try some exciting ones to share with you as well.
1 (2-inch-long) piece baguette, crust discarded
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar (preferably “reserva”), or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil
Soak bread in 1/2 cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.
Mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a large knife). Blend garlic paste, bread, 2 tablespoons vinegar, sugar, cumin, and half of tomatoes in a food processor until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes with motor running and, when very finely chopped, gradually add oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.
Force soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.
Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered, until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving.
Serves about 4 people as a main, 6 as an appetizer.
Now, I didn’t strain out the solids, because I rather like having a little more substance to it, but either way is quite good. I also added about half a cucumber – chopped and seeded – to mine; I like the flavor and again it makes it a little bit thicker.
I served this as an appetizer, in small bowls, but if you want a light main dish during a heat wave or something, this works wonderfully as a cold summer soup.