andaluzian gazpacho

So, I may have been taking the whole “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” adage too much to heart.  Apparently, July’s not cutting us any breaks (I’m not actually complaining, by the way.)  So, I’ve turned to meals that don’t require I turn on an oven or slave over a saute pan.  What better example than good old gazpacho?

I used to have a favorite gazpacho that I would make every year, once.  It required picky, fine chopping, and the resulting bits of tomato, pepper and cucumber swam in a spicy broth of vegetable juice and Tabasco.  It was good, but there’s not a lot I find more tedious than neatly chopping tomatoes.

This version differs in a few ways.  First, it’s creamy – but not with cream, or with milk.  A bit of bread for body and good olive oil, added slowly to pureeing vegetables, blends with the juices of the vegetables to create the velvety texture of the base.  Second, this gazpacho relies on vegetables and vegetables alone for its flavor – no V8 to play back-up – so you get out what you put in.  Choose the best, freshest vegetables you can find.  Finally, while the recipe requires some chopping, it’s mostly of the rough sort.  And that’s only if you want a pretty garnish and a texturally complex soup.  Really, I love the creaminess of the base that blending the vegetables with the olive oil creates, so I can imagine doing version that purees the whole lot of vegetables, and is topped with toasted bread or fried croutons.

As written, though, this is a fresh, satisfying answer to what to have for dinner during this steamy season.  If you can, make this the day before you’d like to serve it – the flavors only improve with time, making it a perfect dish for leftovers.

Creamy Gazpacho
(Serves 4 to 6, adapted barely from Cook’s Illustrated)

6 medium ripe tomatoes, cored
1 small cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded
1 medium green bell pepper, halved, cored and seeded
1 small red onion, peeled and halved
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1 small serrano chili, stemmed and halved lengthwise
Coarse salt
1 slice white sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
2 tablespoons sherry or red-wine vinegar, plus extra for serving (see note)
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley, chives, or basil leaves
Ground black pepper

Coarsely chop 4 tomatoes, half of the cucumber, half of the bell pepper, and half of the onion and place in a large bowl. Add the garlic, chili and 1½ teaspoons salt. Toss until well combined and set aside.

Cut the rest of the tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper into a small dice and combine in medium bowl. Finely chop the remaining onion and add it to the diced vegetables. Toss with ½ teaspoon salt and transfer to fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Set aside for about an hour.

Reserving the drained, diced vegetables in another bowl, add bread pieces to the liquid (there should be about ¼ cup) that drained from those vegetables.  Soak for 1 minute, then add the wet bread and any remaining liquid to roughly chopped vegetables and toss thoroughly.

Transfer half of vegetable-bread mixture to blender and process 30 seconds. With blender running, slowly drizzle in ¼ cup oil and continue to blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Repeat with remaining vegetable-bread mixture and ¼ cup olive oil.

Stir the vinegar, minced herbs, and half of the diced vegetables into soup and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or for at least 2 hours) to chill completely and develop flavors.

Serve with remaining diced vegetables, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and black pepper.

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