Gazpacho is the perfect chilled soup for a hot summer day. Refreshing and savory, it is ideal for brunch, lunch, snack, or as a precursor to a light dinner. The soup has all the elements of a Greek Salad minus the feta cheese but that, along with olives, could certainly be served on the side. Like a Greek Salad, which I blogged about in an earlier post, the main components are super ripe tomatoes, cucumber, onion, yellow or light green pepper, garlic, red wine vinegar (or sherry vinegar), a little salt, and, of course, some great extra-virgin olive oil.
This chilled soup has a long history dating to the culinary traditions of the Romans and later the Moors, when it was traditionally a blended mixture of only olive oil, vinegar, bread, onions, and garlic. Tradition holds that the Roman legions carried stale bread, garlic, salt, olive oil, and vinegar along with them on their journeys throughout the Empire. They mixed these ingredients with a mortar into a paste which then served as a base for a nourishing and refreshing soup. Their incorporation of soaked bread is particularly interesting, as most modern recipes do not incorporate bread or bread crumbs into the soup itself. In fact, the name 'Gazpacho' is thought to come from the Latin caspa, which means 'little pieces', referring to the small bread fragments felt to have been an essential ingredient and served as a thickener of the mixture. In the 16th c., however, New World ingredients (from the Andes), the tomato and pepper, and an Asian ingredient, the cucumber, were incorporated into the mixture in the Andalusian region of Spain. The new "mixture" of blended raw vegetables, thereby, evolved into the 'Spanish soup' now known as Gazpacho. Spain's extensive trade connections with the New World allowed the tomato to reach all classes of society and become THE key ingredient of this dish, seemingly replacing the "soaked" bread. As the key flavor ingredient of 'modern' Gazpacho, it is imperative to use very ripe, in-season tomatoes.
Gazpacho can be served in chilled glasses as a drink, or in bowls as a soup. You can drizzle the surface with a touch of olive oil and garnish with some chopped tomatoes, diced cucumbers, diced peppers, sprigs of herbs, or even a chopped hard-boiled egg and strips of Iberico ham. Certainly, some recipes also, recommend garnishing Gazpacho with toasted croutons, which link it nicely to its origins. This dish is served throughout Southern Spain and Portugal ... in the Andalusian and Algarve regions. When I visited Seville, it was ubiquitous in their restaurants. The recipe I am sharing with you, therefore, is one that is of the Seville-style, which is tomato-based. The color is an orange-pink rather than a lipstick red, because the light green pepper, the pale green cucumber, and the golden olive oil all fade the deep red color of the tomatoes in the emulsion.
About 2 lbs. ripe red tomatoes, cored and cut into chunks
1 light green pepper (ie. Cubanelle, Anaheim, or Banana pepper); cored, seeded and cut into chunks
1/2 English cucumber; peeled and cut into chunks
1 small mild onion; peeled and cut into chunks
1 clove garlic
2 tsp sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Combine the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, onion, and garlic in a blender. Blend on high speed until smooth.
With the motor running, add the vinegar and salt. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil. The mixture will turn an orange-pink color and will become smooth and emulsified. if it seems 'watery', then drizzle in little more olive oil until the texture is creamy.
Strain the emulsion through a food mill or a fine-meshed strainer, to remove the solids. Transfer the strained mixture into a glass pitcher and chill in the refrigerator until very cold, or overnight.
Before serving adjust any seasoning like salt and vinegar. Serve in bowls and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and some toasted homemade croutons.
With two acidic ingredients, tomatoes and vinegar, red gazpacho can be tricky to pair with good wine. While it may be challenging, certainly it's not impossible. Dry, crisp Italian white wines or a sauvignon blanc pair nicely with this delicious Spanish chilled soup, as do Sherries or a dry Rosé, like the Spanish Rioja Rosado. During the hot summer months, I especially love quick, easy, tasty, and refreshing recipes that minimize my time spent in the kitchen, and more importantly don't require the use of a HOT stove. This dish and recipe certainly meet ALL those criteria! Try it for yourself and enjoy!