Sep 082012

Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz

My favorite summer soup is also one that can go disastrously, epically wrong. It all lies in the tomato: use super-market tomatoes or try to make this soup in the winter, and you’re setting yourself up for failure. Even local restaurants can get it wrong: why on earth would you ship in insipid dyed-with-ethylene-gas “tomatoes” when you can get perfectly ripe ones in the peak of tomato season? There was a restaurant in Tucson that I absolutely loved, but when I noticed that the tomatoes on their sandwiches were exactly this type, I swore to never sample their gazpacho.

Gazpacho is one of the best vehicles out there for peak-of-summer, flavor-saturated, eat-them-over-the-sink tomatoes. When it comes time to make a batch, I head out to the farmers’ market (because I have not yet mastered the art of tomato -growing) and load up on whatever looks — and more importantly, smells — the most flavorful. I tend to flavor black heirloom varieties (like Black Krim, Black Brandywine, and Cherokee Purple), but there are plenty of other varieties in other colors that pack just as much flavor.

This Spanish treat is an ideal one for summer for another reason: it’s completely raw, so there’s no need to add to the heat in your kitchen by turning on a stove! Another bonus: it’s extremely healthy! Be sure to drizzle plenty of fruity olive oil over the top, though: not only is it delicious, but it will help you absorb all the vitamins in the soup! Oh, and one more thing: I like vegetables for breakfast. I know, weird. When this soup is in the fridge, I can’t think of a better meal to start my day. Give it a try some time!

A side note: this summer I had a watermelon gazpacho for the first time. I was amazed at how well the ripe watermelon and tomato complemented each other (though I know that this is by no means a well-kept secret in the food world). I’m going to have to try to find a good recipe for that too, so if you have one, by all means, please share it!

Creamy Gazpacho Andaluz
Adapted from the July/August 2010 issue of Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 4-6

Don’t even think about making this soup when tomatoes aren’t in season: you’ll just be wasting your time and money. If it’s January right now and you’re reading this for the first time, tuck this recipe away until July (assuming you live in the northern hemisphere, of course).
If you’d prefer to use table salt over kosher, use half of what each step calls for.
Add the olive oil as directed in the recipe (namely, slowly) because doing otherwise will prevent the oil from emulsifying into the soup.
Go easy on the vinegar, as it can quickly corrupt the clean flavor-profile of the soup, especially if you have extremely flavorful tomatoes as the base of your soup. Add just a half-tablespoon at a time, stirring well and tasting between additions. Don’t feel pressure to add the full amount of vinegar: I used just 1/2 tablespoon on my last batch.
3 pounds (about 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 chile, stemmed and halved lengthwise
Sea-or kosher-salt (see note)
1 slice high-quality sandwich bread, crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup high-quality fruity extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for serving
1/2 – 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar (to taste), plus extra for serving (see note above)
2 tablespoons finely minced parsley, chives, or basil leaves
Ground black pepper
Roughly chop 2 pounds of tomatoes, half of cucumber, half of bell pepper, and half of onion and place in large bowl. Add garlic, chile, and 1½ teaspoons salt; toss until well combined. Set aside.
Cut remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper into ¼-inch dice; place vegetables in medium bowl. Mince remaining onion and add to diced vegetables. Toss with ½ teaspoon salt and transfer to fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl. Set aside for 1 hour.
Transfer drained diced vegetables to medium bowl and set aside. Add bread pieces to exuded liquid (there should be about ¼ cup) and soak 1 minute. Add soaked bread and any remaining liquid to roughly chopped vegetables and toss thoroughly to combine.
Transfer half of vegetable-bread mixture to a food processor or blender and process 30 seconds. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in ¼ cup oil and continue to blend until completely smooth, about 2 minutes. Pour the processed soup into a large bowl and repeat with remaining vegetable-bread mixture and 1/4 cup olive oil.
Stir vinegar (see note above), minced herb, and half of diced vegetables into soup and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight (preferred) or for at least 2 hours to chill completely and develop flavors. Serve, passing remaining diced vegetables, olive oil, vinegar, and black pepper separately.

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