Saturday, August 28, 2010

Enjoying a Cold One

In the summertime, there's nothing like relaxing with something cold and refreshing. Since some folks don't hold alcohol very well (which is code for, since I don't hold alcohol very well), I often rely on the delicious, tomatoey tang of the classic cold soup from Mexico (where they really know what a hot summer is), home-made gazpacho. If you've had good gazpacho, you know just what I mean. If you haven't, well, today's your lucky day. (This also addresses a promise I made after last week's post to write about something that is both low-fat and not heavily burdened by carbs.)

The recipe, which makes four meal-size portions or six to eight appetizer size portions, follows. As you'll see, the overall approach involves dividing the chopped vegetables into thirds, one of which is pureed to a fine consistency, the second of which is ground to a slightly larger, coarser consistency, and the third of which is used in its basic chopped state without being pureed at all. The resulting combination of textures adds a wonderful dimension to the tasty tartness of the basic soup. The only thing that would make it even better would be to top it with fresh, home-made croutons, so we will. (I have to get some carbs in there, you know.)

The recipe, as you would expect, involves a lot of tomatoes. I use fresh, since this is primarily a summer dish and it's easy to get - or even grow - good tomatoes. (I've never made this with canned tomatoes, but if you do and it works, let me know!) For this reason, a couple of special notes about the tomatoes are in order.

First, I like to use plum tomatoes. In addition to having a delightful taste, their oblong shape makes it easy to seed them by cutting them in half; round tomatoes need to be cut into quarters for seeding. That may not make much of a difference if you're using five tomatoes, but if you're starting with five pounds of tomatoes, as you do with this dish, a few seconds saved on each tomato quickly add up. (If this reminds you even a little of that oft-told story of why a certain famous cartoon mouse has four fingers on each hand instead of five, it's not coincidental. That's where I got the idea.)

Second, you'll note the recipe calls for the tomatoes not only to be seeded, but also peeled. For any readers who are new to peeling tomatoes, it's easier than it sounds. The trick is to blanch them in boiling water for about a minute; once they cool off enough to handle, you'll find the skins remove easily. (I like to quicken the process by blanching the tomatoes in batches of three or four; while each batch is blanching, there's enough time to take the previous batch out of a cooling bath (think blanch-and-shock) and peel them before the newly blanched batch takes their place in the cold water.

A third special note, this one about the red onion you'll be using. Red onions have great flavor but tend to have a nasty bite. You can decrease the onion's bite, while still keeping the flavor, by soaking it in water for five minutes prior to using.

Enough talk...let's make some gazpacho!

As with most things involving tomatoes, use non-metallic bowls.
Begin by peeling and seeding five pounds of tomatoes as described above. When they're done, cut them into bite size pieces. Place the pieces into a pot, slowly bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. After simmering the tomatoes for 15 minutes, stirring often to prevent them from sticking to pot, press them through a food mill (or let them cool and then crush them with your hands), putting the juice back into the pot and keeping the tomato meat for used later in the recipe. Boil the juice for about five minutes, stirring often.
While the tomatoes are cooking, combine in a large bowl 1 chopped red onion; 1 peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber; 1 seeded and chopped green or red bell pepper; and 2 chopped stalks of celery. Separate about one-third of the mixture and put it aside. To the remaining two-thirds, 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh cilantro;2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh chives; and the tomato meat you put aside earlier. Then add 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup of olive oil, the juice of 1 lime, 2 teaspoons of sugar, 4 teaspoons of salt, 2 teaspoons of fresh-ground black pepper, and 1 teaspoon of hot sauce.

Mix all these ingredients well and divide that mixture in half.

Using a food processor, finely puree one of the halves and coarse-puree the other half. Once that's done, combine them with the chopped vegetables you put aside earlier, add the tomato liquid you heated, and mix until everything is combined.

You're just about done! Just put hot mixture into a non-metallic storage container, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight to let the soup cool and the flavors blend.
Of course, you'll also need croutons to go with your new gazpacho.
To make the croutons, put 4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic into 1/2 cup of olive oil. Let it rest for as long as possible, to give the garlic a chance to infuse the oil. (If you do this before you start the gazpacho as noted above, the garlic will have time to infuse the oil while you're processing the tomatoes.)

While you're preheating your oven to 250 degrees, brush both sides of three or four slices of firmly-textured bread with the garlic-infused oil. Cut the bread into squares about 1/2" on each side, and spread them out on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until the bread is at the desired level of crispness, turning the baking pan half-way through to heat the croutons evenly. When they're done, sprinkle them with fresh parmesan, put in a sealed bag or container, and store until you're ready to use them to top your gazpacho!
For a cookbook style, notebook-ready copy of this or any other recipe from this site, just drop me a line and I'll get it right off to you.

Thanks for visiting! Till next week, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)


  1. What kind of bread did you use to make the croutons? I am a crouton lover and I would love to make my own...

  2. For some reason gazpacho just doesn't appeal to me! I should try it, though, I might love it.

  3. Thanks, Tawnya and Keri!

    The croutons I made used a honey-wheat bread that I had around, but you can really use almost any bread that's not mushy soft. (In other words, no Wonder Bread croutons.) The important thing is that whatever bread you use has enough firmness to be cut into 1/2" x 1/2" pieces.

    As for gazpacho's appeal, well, at least everyone likes croutons! :-)

  4. I like this recipe. Most gazpacho recipes have you throw eveything in a food processor and you're done. This one gives each ingredient its own special due. I esepcially like the tip on the red onions! I am a bit disheartened that Wonder Bread can't be used for croutons though... :-)

  5. Thanks! For the truly determined, there surely must be a way to do Wonder-croutons. Lightly toast them first? Or perhaps leave the slices out on a counter until they start to get firm? (Shouldn't take more than a few weeks.) Or - and I'm just thinking out loud here - since it's Wonderbread, roll pieces into little balls and bake them until crisp. Now THAT'S a crouton!

  6. I personally feel everything should have croutons.