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Thursday, July 9, 2015 12:01 am

Cold comfort, Spanish style

PHOTO BY JAVIER LASTRAS/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

 

Some call it liquid salad. That’s understandable, but there’s a lot more to gazpacho than a glass of V8, though you might never know it from some of the gazpachos that show up on summer menus all over the world these days: a bowl or glass of cold, seasoned tomato juice, garnished with bits of diced raw veggies and, sometimes, croutons.

Even those simpler “gazpachos” are refreshing on a hot summer day – truthfully, when the heat is oppressive, any icy concoction is welcome. But classic gazpachos offer a lot more both in flavor and texture.

There are more classic gazpachos than you might think. As with many traditional preparations, there are almost as many variations as the cooks who make it. The most familiar, of course, is Gazpacho Andaluz with its base of tomatoes, which originated in Andalucía, the southernmost region of Spain, gateway to the Mediterranean and practically spitting distance from the northern coast of Africa. Tomatoes didn’t become a part of Spanish cuisine until they were brought back from the Americas, however, and there are tomato-less gazpachos still popular today from Málaga (made with almonds and garlic, garnished with grapes) and Extremadura (made with bread, peppers and cucumbers) that hark back to an even more distant time of Moorish rule.

Contemporary Spanish chefs are pushing the boundaries of gazpacho. The New Spanish Table cookbook, authored by Anya von Bremzen, has recipes not only for traditional gazpachos but also such variations as cherry and beet, strawberry and fennel, and almond with figs and edible flowers.

I’ve tried some of those, but, good as they can be, when the tomatoes are ripe and the weather is hot, I always come back to the original – made with a bit of good bread for body and the uniquely Spanish flavor of sherry vinegar. (See note below recipe.)

The most refined versions of gazpacho are prepared by blending the ingredients to a fine purée and then pushing it through a strainer to remove fiber. I prefer the texture of the unstrained mixture (I’m fond of rustic preparations in general, but there’s no denying I’d also rather avoid the trouble and mess of straining); feel free to strain it if you’d prefer.

Gazpacho was served as a chilled soup long before versions frozen into sorbets or semifreddos (literally half-frozen – aka slushies) came on the scene with the advent of modern refrigeration. I like gazpacho semifreddo as a first course but if I’m having a big bowl of gazpacho as a main course, garnished with seafood on hot summer days, I prefer it chilled but not frozen. On the other hand, if the weather is hot enough and we are eating outside, gazpacho in semifreddo form will melt down as we eat; keeping the last bite as cool as the first.
 
PHOTO BY PAULO_I_SVERIGE/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

 

Classic gazpacho Andaluz

  • 1 c. tomato juice (Campbell’s preferred) or V8 juice, plus additional if needed
  • 1 1/2 c. bread from good quality, white sandwich loaf or baguette, French, Italian, etc., with crusts removed and torn into small pieces
  • 4 c. dead ripe, seeded and chopped red tomatoes (they’ll give the finished soup better color), peeled if desired
  • 1 c. stemmed, seeded and chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 c. peeled, seeded and diced cucumber
  • 1 c. peeled and chopped sweet onion, such as Vidalia, candy or Walla Walla
  • 1/4 c. flavorful extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 – 6 T. sherry* (preferred), red wine or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic or to taste
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • Salt to taste, optional

Optional garnishes:

  • Chopped red, green or other colored bell peppers
  • Chopped cucumbers
  • Tomatoes – yellow, pink, green or black make especially colorful garnishes
  • Thinly sliced scallions

Soak the bread in the tomato juice to soften while you prepare the other ingredients.
Purée the bread and juice mixture along with the remaining ingredients except the salt and pepper in an electric blender until completely smooth, using the smaller amount of vinegar. You will probably need to do this in batches. Place the mixture as it is puréed into a large bowl. When finished, whisk to thoroughly combine and then season to taste with pepper, additional vinegar if needed and salt. (You may or may not need to add any salt.) Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled before serving.

Serve in chilled bowls or shallow glasses, such as martini glasses.

Serves 6 – 12.
 
For seafood gazpacho:
Cooked seafood: crabmeat, shrimp, bay scallops or lobster, cut into bite-sized pieces if necessary.
Stir into each portion with approximately 2 tablespoons seafood per 1/2 cup of gazpacho, leaving a few pieces to sprinkle on top. Use additional garnishes as desired.
 
Gazpacho semifreddo
Put the blended mixture (without garnishes) in a large flat pan – at least 11-inches by 13-inches – or even larger for a quicker freezing time. Place in the freezer on a level surface and freeze for about 45 minutes, or until the top and edges are iced over and beginning to freeze. Remove the pan and stir the frozen part into the liquid part until thoroughly combined. Return the pan to the freezer, removing the pan and stirring every 15 minutes until the mixture forms a thick slush, but is not completely frozen. This should take about one hour, but will vary depending on the size of the pan and your freezer.

Note: Leftovers may be refrozen until solid (without garnishes), then removed from freezer until partially unthawed. Process in a food processor or mash to achieve a slushy consistency as before.
 
About sherry vinegar
Sherry vinegar is one of the great ingredients of Spanish cooking. I find its nutty mellow tang is indispensable, not just in gazpacho, but in vinaigrettes and a host of other sauces and preparations – in fact, I always have one opened bottle and another unopened bottle in my pantry. As soon as the first bottle is empty, I open the second and buy another to store, so that I never risk being without. Sherry vinegar is available locally at Incredibly Delicious, HyVee and Italian Food Mart.  

Contact Julianne Glatz at realcuisine.jg@gmail.com.

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