May it Please the Palate: The evolution of gazpacho

The sprightly gazpacho we eat today bears little relation to the peasant soup from Andalusia from which it evolved. Just as most of us bear little resemblance to Andalusian peasants.

Gazpacho's precise origins are unclear. The basic soup of bread, garlic, olive oil, and salt may have been introduced to southern Spain by Arab Moors, with vinegar added by the Romans. Later versions included vegetables or even fruits, with the most common being the tomatoes we see today, which were brought from the New World by Spanish conquistadors, according to cookbook author Joyce Goldstein.

I'm going to provide you with three variations of this summer culinary delight. Goldstein's is the truest to the traditional peasant-style, with a bread base and optional croutons.

Gazpacho Andaluz with Garlic Croutons

Joyce Goldstein (serves 4)

4 slices day-old, coarse textured peasant bread, crusts removed (2 slices for soup and 2 for croutons)

1 small onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced (divided, 2 for soup and 1 for croutons)

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

2 lb fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped

2 small green bell peppers, seeded, de-ribbed, and coarsely chopped

10 TBS olive oil (divided, 6 for soup and 4 for croutons)

3 TBS red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

Chilled tomato juice, if needed to thin soup, and/or with ice water

Place 2 of the bread slices in bowl, cover with water, and after 3-5 minutes, remove and squeeze dry

Combine in a food processor the soaked bread, onion, 2 cloves minced garlic, cucumber, most of the tomatoes, and 1 of the peppers. Process until smooth or chunky, as you like. Pour into a bowl.

Finely chop the remaining tomatoes and pepper by hand and stir into the bowl. Add 6 TBS olive oil and the vinegar and season with salt and pepper. If too thick, add a little ice water or a mix of ice water and tomato juice. Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days.

To make garlic croutons, cut the remaining 2 bread slices into 1/2 inch cubes. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm the remaining 4 TBS olive oil; add the remaining 1 clove minced garlic and sauté for one minute. Add the bread cubes and brown on all sides; drain on paper towels. Ladle the soup into chilled bowls, top with croutons, and serve.

The venerable and quotable MFK Fisher, in "How to Cook A Wolf," adds a handful of mixed fresh herbs--chives, chervil, parsley, or basil--and substitutes lemon juice for the vinegar. She tops the soup with bread crumbs rather than hot croutons, before chilling it. Fisher notes that gazpacho "is especially good if you have a barbecue, and want some legitimate and not too alcoholic way to keep your guest busy while you turn the steak." She adds that leftover soup "ripens well" and is a "soul-satisfying thing to drink, chilled, midway in a torrid morning," especially if one is "badly hung over." (So much for diverting her guests from alcohol.)

Finally, Alton Brown gives us this lighter version that most closely resembles what is served in American sidewalk cafes. He eschews bread in favor of a basil chiffonade, and adds cumin, lime and jalapeno for bite. (For vegetarians, you can get anchovy-free Worcestershire at Trader Joe's, or find a substitute on the internet.)

1 1/2 pounds vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

Tomato juice

1 cup cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 lime, juiced

2 TSP balsamic vinegar

2 TSP Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon toasted, ground cumin

1 TSP kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 TBS fresh basil leaves, chiffonade (chopped into fine strips)

Fill a 6-quart pot halfway full of water, set over high heat and bring to a boil.

Make an X with a paring knife on the bottom of the tomatoes. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water for 15 seconds, remove and transfer to an ice bath and allow to cool until able to handle, approximately 1 minute. Remove and pat dry. Peel, core and seed the tomatoes. When seeding the tomatoes, place the seeds and pulp into a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl in order to catch the juice. Press as much of the juice through as possible and then add enough bottled tomato juice to bring the total to 1 cup.

Place the tomatoes and juice into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, jalapeno, garlic clove, olive oil, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire, cumin, salt and pepper and stir to combine. Transfer 1 1/2 cups of the mixture to a blender and puree for 15 to 20 seconds on high speed. Return the pureed mixture to the bowl and stir to combine. Cover and chill for 2 hours and up to overnight.

Serve with chiffonade of basil, just as the Andalusian peasants did - or would have, if they'd have gotten off their lazy butts and watched the Food Network once in a while.

Published: Thu, Jul 26, 2012

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