Gazpacho, pacho man! I want to be a gazpacho man!

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With croutons, parsley, and cilantro.

Still summer, still hot. Time again for a simple cold soup (many call it “liquid salad”), perfect for that moment your garden is in its annual throes of tomatorrhea, when your plants imitate the ketchup bottle in Richard Armour‘s famous poem: “none will come / and then a lot’ll.” Even if you don’t grow your own tomatoes, local supermercados, feiras, and grocery stores will be happy to provide you with a cornucopia of ingredients.

This particular verion of gazpacho was built from a foundation laid by the Spanish chef and international hero, José Andrés, and published in the Washington Post. I guarantee that if you follow his instructions to the letter, you will have an excellent bowl of soup, if slightly different from the one offered here.

Some people claim that the word gazpacho originated in Arabic, others say it came from Greek; the Real Academia de la Lengua Española, which is the final word on Spanish words, has come down firmly in the camp of “we aren’t sure.” One thing that IS clear is that the modern version of red gazpacho dates back no further than the 16th century, because the Old World (although they didn’t know it) was waiting for Columbus to bring back tomatoes and peppers. [Rock fans know this from the Neon Park illustration on the cover of Little Feat‘s album Waiting for Columbus. But I digress.]

[One further digression: other scholars assert that Hernán Cortés, not Columbus, introduced the Peruvian tomato to Spain in 1521. Regardless of who performed the introduction, it was widely embraced.]

Most culinary historians date gazpacho’s birth sometime between the 8th and 15th centuries, when the Ottoman Empire’s reach extended to Spain; others credit the Moors with a roughly contemporaneous version. Still others say an early precursor dates to the Roman Empire, and there are even some who push the date back as far as the Biblical book of Ruth. One thing that virtually all of them agree on, though, is that the first person to publish a recipe for it was the chief confectioner at the court of the Spanish kings Felipe V and Fernando VI, Juan de la Mata.

Looks good for being nearly 300 years old.

His treatise, Arte de Repostería (Art of Confectionery), was published in 1747 and is still studied. Even at that late date, tomato had not gained the preeminence it has today, and de la Mata’s recipe called for bread, water, anchovy bones, garlic cloves, vinegar, sugar, salt, and oil. [For more on the history of gazpacho, I commend the James Beard Award-winning author Clifford A. Wright, who not only has his observations on the origins of this delightful soup, but recipes as well.]

Throughout its ancestral home of Andalucia, and indeed throughout the entire Iberian peninsula, gazpacho evinces itself in a wide variety of textures and flavour profiles. Some are chunky, others puréed; some feature tomato and some don’t; certain cooks absolutely insist that bread crumbs have to be in the mix, while others are happy to incorporate such exotic flavours as watermelon or avocado. So my advice to you would be to keep an open mind, paw through a bunch of recipes, and find the one that zings the strings of your papillae.

Please don’t feel any sense of shame if you use canned tomatoes rather than fresh; some days, the local crop may be woody or just plain bland, and the canned option (particularly if fire-roasted) may yield a better finished product. But please do use the best olive oil and vinegar that your budget will allow. My last batch contained some artisanal olive oil we purchased directly from the producer in Marvão, just barely on the Portuguese side of the Spanish border. The vinegar was hand-carried home from Brauerai Gegenbauer in Vienna, and their products are just crazy great. You can use a good Sherry vinegar, but I like to add some Gegenbauer tomato vinegar to a glug of Lustau Sherry, both for the sweetness and the rounded texture.

As is true with many of my recipes, this is merely one of a gaggle of routes to the destination of yum. To usurp (and slightly corrupt) the title of a famous book/movie, Eat, Play, Love.

INGREDIENTS

1 liter / 4 cups polpa de tomate/tomato sauce (a combination of tomato paste and tomato juice can be substituted)
390g / 14 oz. can chopped tomatoes (check to see if salted or not)
600g / 21 oz. Padrón peppers (shishito peppers can be substituted)
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped (seeding optional)
5-6 cloves garlic (but I’m a garlic fiend, so you may want fewer)
100ml / 3.5 oz Sherry
250ml / 14 oz. extra virgin olive oil
100ml / 3.5 oz vinegar
Optional toppings/add-ins: croutons, parsley, diced tomato or bell pepper, toasted almonds, piri-piri sauce or Tabasco, cilantro

DIRECTIONS
Put all the ingredients into a blender. Blend on medium until desired texture is reached. Transfer to pitcher and chill (both you and the soup) for at least 2-3 hours to allow flavours to meld (the garlic may not completely mellow out until the following day). Garnish as the spirit moves. Serve.

Soupe de la Semaine: Roasted Pepper Soup with Cilantro Cream

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My pal Beth, herself no slouch around the kitchen, dropped a UXB (UneXpected Book) into our mailbox earlier this week: Cook’s Illustrated All-Time Best Soups. It boasted a number of recipes that will serve as inspiration during soup season — which is all year, of course, but especially in the winter. I had my eyes set on a celeriac, fennel, and apple chowder for the opening salvo, but the bride had other ideas, and she wins.

Over the course of due diligence (I almost never cook a recipe without scanning the Interwebs to see if someone has concocted a more interesting version), I came across the Cookie + Kate blog, in which she lays out several entertaining reasons for not making this soup. Long story short, it’s not particularly cheap to make (unless you grow your own peppers), and the pepper roasting process is both time-consuming and a wee bit tedious. That said, just like her, I concluded that this soup is so tasty that any quibbles about prep were overcome mere nanoseconds after the intersection of tongue and spoon. [All the original recipes I consulted to arrive at this one called for red bell peppers, but the local supermercado‘s red peppers looked a little sketchy, so I made it with orange ones instead. I presume yellow bell peppers, or a mix of all three, would work equally well.]

For those of you who are interested, the recipe is easily vegan-adaptable (see notes below); while the half and half is a tasty touch, I tasted the puréed soup prior to its addition, and I could easily have stopped there, ingredient-wise. Recipe yields 4-6 large servings.

INGREDIENTS

Cilantro Cream

    3/4 cup / 170g sour cream (or soy yogurt for vegan version)
    2 tablespoons / 30ml half and half (or cashew cream for vegan version)
    2 tablespoons / 5.3g fresh minced cilantro leaves
    zest of 1 lime, plus juice from half of that lime (approximately 2 tablespoons / 30ml)

Soup

    8 red (or orange, or yellow) bell peppers, roasted, skins removed, and chopped
    1 tablespoon / 15ml olive oil (I used basil-infused EVOO) (double if making tortilla strips)
    2 medium garlic cloves, minced
    1 medium red onion, chopped
    1 teaspoon / 2.5g ground cumin
    1 teaspoon / 2.5g smoked paprika (I prefer Spanish pimentón de la Vera, and I used picante/hot rather than dulce/sweet)
    3 tablespoons / 50g tomato paste (or 8 oz. / 227g tomato sauce)
    1 tablespoon / 10g potato starch
    4-6 cups / 950ml-1.4l vegetable broth; start with smaller amount, adjusting for consistency as desired
    2 bay leaves
    1/2 cup /120ml half and half (or 100ml cashew cream + 20ml coconut oil for vegan version)
    2 tablespoons / 30ml dry sherry
    2 tablespoons / 5.3g minced fresh cilantro
    salt and pepper, to taste

Garnish (optional)

    3 corn tortillas, sliced into thin, 2-inch long strips, fried in oil until crispy

INSTRUCTIONS

For the Cilantro Cream:
Whisk all the ingredients together in a small bowl. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until serving.

For the Crispy Tortilla Strips:
Cut tortillas into strips about 2″ (5cm) long and 1/4″ (2/3cm) wide. Warm 1 tablespoon / 15ml olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add tortilla strips and salt. Stir to coat the strips with the oil, and fry until both sides are golden and crispy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel to cool. NOTE: If you are making the vegan version, be sure no lard was used in the tortilla manufacture! Corn tortillas are gluten-free, if you are concerned about that.

Peppers pre-peeling.

Peppers pre-peeling.


Post-peeling pepper perfection.

Post-peeling pepper perfection.

For the Soup:
Roast the peppers: Spread peppers on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet, skin side up, in a single layer (you may need to repeat this step several times to roast all your peppers). Place cookie sheet about 3″ below broiler element. Roast until peppers are blackened across the top, around 10 minutes.

Transfer roasted peppers to a medium-sized bowl and cover with plastic wrap, allowing them to steam for 15 minutes. Using your fingers, peel off the charred top layer of skin and discard. Take peeled pepper slices and give them a rough chop (they will be puréed later, so no need to be fussy about it).

Cook the soup: In a 3½ quart or larger Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot, warm olive oil and minced garlic on fairly low heat. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until the garlic gets a little foamy and sticky, about 6-7 minutes. Increase heat to medium, add onions and sauté until softened and turning translucent, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the cumin and smoked paprika/pimentón de la Vera and cook for about 30 seconds to release aromas. Add the potato starch (or flour) and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomato paste (or sauce) and gradually whisk in the stock, stirring to prevent lumps. Add the peeled red/orange/yellow peppers and stir. Bring the soup to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Once your soup is done cooking, remove it from heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes.

Blend the soup: Transfer soup to a blender or Vita-Mix (do NOT fill it over halfway, unless you wish to decorate your walls and person with hot soup); drape a kitchen towel over the blender (so the escaping steam doesn’t build up or burn your hands) and process in batches. Transfer puréed soup to another pot and continue until all of the soup is blended. Alternatively, use an immersion blender to blend the soup in the pot. Blend until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If soup is too thick, add vegetable stock to achieve desired consistency.

Transfer soup back to cooking pot and rewarm gently on the stove; add the half & half (or vegan substitute), dry sherry, and chopped cilantro. Divide soup into individual bowls, and drizzle in cilantro cream. Top with crispy tortilla strips (optional) and serve.