It's the end of summer, and the farmers' markets are full of the riotous colors of peppers, glorious, fat tomatoes and the sweetest of onions. Cucumbers abound. Even garlic is at its best.
And it is hot. Here in Los Angeles, I imagine it is going to get much hotter still.
It's probably obvious where I'm going with this.
Now is the perfect time to whip up this cool coral soup. Some of you may be going, huh, coral? There are plenty of folks who like a chunky gazpacho with nicely diced colors of red and green and white.
I'm not one of them.
To me and to the Andalusians, gazpachos are creamy, puréed, bread based soups. I don't want to eat a bowl full of pico de gallo and call it soup. I love the velvety texture of traditional gazpacho with a few crispy, crunchy garnishes strewn over the top.
Looking for the best gazpacho recipe that would, frankly, remind me most of the one my mom used to make, I turned to Anya von Bremzen. Her definitive, modern work, The New Spanish Table, is a deservedly celebrated Spanish cookbook. She is nothing, if not thorough. Along with a concise history of gazpacho, there are six recipes for gazpacho within, featuring all manner of fruit and vegetable, from strawberry and fennel, cherry and beet to fig and almond.
I contentedly settled for the Gazpacho Sevillano or classic gazpacho, because I knew it would remind me, not only of my childhood summers, but of the time I spent in Barcelona with my father when I was twenty-one.
It turns out that von Bremzen's recipe is spot on.
The flavors are nicely balanced. I like the bit of cumin added to the garlic paste, and the use of the Italian frying pepper and the red bell. The balance of sherry vinegar and olive oil is just right.
The recipe asks for chilled bottled spring water. I'm not even sure what that is, so chilled, filtered water from the refrigerator is what I used.
Believe me, that was just fine.
I wasn't so certain about the results, the first night we sampled the gazpacho. To avoid forcing the vegetables through a food mill or sieve, von Bremzen suggests first puréeing the soup in a food processor and then blending it in a blender. This requires more washing up, but less effort over all.
My problem was that all that processing and blending seemed to really whip up the soup. It gave the soup a texture that was too frothy and emulsified for my taste. I was convinced that the time it would take to use a food mill or a china cap would be time well spent.
However, the soup seemed to calm down over the following two days. All the air that had been whipped into it, vanished leaving a beautifully smooth purée.
To combat this problem, I would recommend making this soup in the morning and serving it in the evening. Von Bremzen suggests that the soup be chilled for two hours. In my opinion, the soup is in no way chilled enough at this point. Making the gazpacho early in the day, will leave you with plenty of time for chilling.
I like gazpacho cold.
I also insist upon tiny little croutons to sprinkle on top. I enjoy a bit of chopped cucumber and pepper as a garnish as well, but something is starkly missing if there are no croutons. They are a cinch to make.
Cut some bread into tiny cubes. Almost any kind will do. I used a whole-grain country loaf. Fry the cubes in a pan in some hot olive oil, until crisp. Let them drain on a paper towel lined plate. You could also toss the bread cubes in some olive oil and bake in a medium-high oven for about ten minutes or so.
Von Bremzen suggests waiting to add the garlic, if you are making the soup in advance. This may be a good suggestion, but honestly I had no problem with the garlic overwhelming the flavors even on the third day of eating the gazpacho.
And the third day was really the clincher. That's when I served it to my parents and sister. And you know what -- smash hit!
For the soup:
2 cups cubed day-old country bread, crust removed
2 medium-size garlic cloves, chopped
1 small pinch of cumin seeds or ground cumin
3 pounds ripe and flavorful tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 small Kirby (pickling) cucumbers
1 large Italian (frying) pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
1 medium-size red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
3 tablespoons chopped red onion
1/2 cup fragrant extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup chilled bottled spring water, or more as needed
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, preferably aged, or more to taste
For the garnishes:
Finely diced cucumber
Finely diced peeled granny Smith apple
Finely diced slightly under-ripe tomato
Finely diced green bell pepper
Slivered basil leaves
Place the bread in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain the bread and squeeze out the excess liquid.
Using a mortar and pestle, smash the garlic, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into a paste.
Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, Italian and red peppers, onion, bread and garlic paste in a large bowl. Mix well and let stand for about 15 minutes. Working in two batches, put the vegetable mixture into a food processor and process until smooth, adding half of the olive oil to each batch. Once each batch is finished, puree it finely in a blender, then transfer it to a large mixing bowl.
When all the puréeing is complete, whisk in the water and vinegar. The soup should have the consistency of a smoothie. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt or vinegar as needed. Refrigerate, covered until chilled for at least 2 hours.
Serve with garnishes.
Note: If making the gazpacho ahead of time, do not add the garlic more than 2 to 3 hours before serving, or it may overwhelm the other flavors.