If you want to know the best ways to use an abundance of seasonal produce, you can’t do better than look at peasant food. People who grew all their own food developed recipes that made the most of what was fresh and in-season.
Gazpacho is a classic example. This chilled Spanish soup has roots that go back a couple of thousand years – in fact, it was only in the past couple of centuries that tomatoes, which we now think of as essential to gazpacho, were introduced to the soup. Prior to that, it was a soup of garlic, stale bread, vinegar, oil, salt, and whatever vegetables were available.
You can still enjoy that kind of gazpacho (Spain has dozens of variations of gazpacho, with and without tomatoes), but in North America, gazpacho has become synonymous with tomatoes.
As with any simple recipe, the secret is in the main ingredients. Don’t even think about making gazpacho with tomatoes that were grown in a hothouse. And storing tomatoes in the refrigerator is a sure way to kill their flavour (a group of scientists who studied the reasons for this described refrigerated tomatoes as “insipid fruits.”) No, to make this a memorable soup you need deep red field tomatoes, grown within 100 kms of where you’re cooking, and kept fresh.
A good gazpacho, like this one, also needs a hint of spiciness to it. Not too much, but just enough to give it a bite. The recipe below, from The Mediterranean Dish, says cayenne pepper is optional, but we think it’s essential.
While gazpacho is traditionally served icy cold to combat the heat of summer, at this time of year it can also be enjoyed lightly chilled.
If you don’t like the foaminess that mixing in the blender can give to the soup, the solution is to use the traditional method: crush the tomatoes by hand. It’s time-consuming, but it will put you in touch with the peasant cooks who developed this dish in the first place. The slightly coarse texture also gives the soup a nicer mouth-feel.
Finally, feel free to experiment with garnishes. Basil leaves scattered on top are lovely. Other traditions include shaved ham, hard-boiled eggs cut in quarters, cumin seeds crushed with mint, or chopped almonds.
5 slices stale bread, crust removed
5 large ripe tomatoes
1 stalk celery, chopped
¾ cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 green pepper, deseeded, roughly chopped
2 green onions, trimmed, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled, roughly chopped
Juice of one lemon or large lime
Salt and pepper
1 tsp cayenne pepper, optional
Mint leaves, stems removed, ripped or chopped
Cilantro leaves, stems removed, ripped or chopped
Place the bread slices in a bowl with 1/2 cup of water. Let it soak while you work on the tomatoes.
Remove the tomato tops. Place the tomatoes in a large pot of boiling water for 40 seconds or so. Remove the tomatoes from the water and let them cool for about a minute or so. When they are cool enough to handle, gently peel the skins off.
In a large food processor or blender, place the tomatoes with the cucumbers, celery, bell peppers, green onions and garlic. Top with the soaked bread. Pour 1/2 cup olive oil and the lemon juice. Run the processor for a few seconds then add the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper (optional) and a pinch of sugar; blend.
Test the gazpacho, and if it’s too thick, add a little water and blend again until you reach the desired texture.
Transfer the gazpacho to a glass bowl or jug and cover. Refrigerate for a couple of hours, or overnight for a more developed flavor.
When ready to serve, give the gazpacho a quick stir then transfer to serving bowls or small glasses. Top with olive oil and a garnish of fresh mint, cilantro and chopped green onions, if you like.