Recipe by Leslie Brenner
Peeling the tomatoes and red bell pepper and puréeing the ingredients as smooth as possible makes for an elegant version of Southern Spain's famous cold soup. For a quicker version, don't bother peeling either, and don't worry about seeding the tomatoes; just core them and cut them up before tossing them into the food processor. Either way, using super-ripe, flavorful tomatoes, sherry vinegar and the best possible olive oil in the right proportions will result in gazpacho that will blow you away. Note: The easiest way to peel a bell pepper is to seed it, cut it into thick strips and peel them with a vegetable peeler.
To achieve maximum smoothness, I usually purée the ingredients in a food processor (in a couple of batches), then pour them in a bowl and use an immersion blender to purée them super-smooth. Alternatively, if you happen to have a Vitamix or other high-powered blender, you can use that for a super-smooth purée.
Feel free to riff on the the garnishes, adding anything that sounds great. For a special (non-vegetarian) dinner-party version, consider including lump crabmeat or chopped cooked shrimp. You can either garnishes the bowls in the kitchen, or serve bowls ungarnished and pass an assortment of garnishes in small bowls at the table.
FOR THE SOUP:
3 pounds ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 1/2 to 3 ounces French or Italian bread, crusts removed, torn or cut into small pieces (about 2 cups)
1 medium cucumber (English garden-variety or hothouse), peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, seeded, peeled with a vegetable peeler and cut in chunks
2-3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed in a press
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
A pinch of Espellette, cayenne or Aleppo pepper
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup best-quality olive oil
GARNISHES (ANY OR ALL OF THE FOLLOWING):
Cucumber – peeled, seeded and finely diced
Red, green and or/yellow bell peppers, seeded and finely diced
Scallions, finely sliced (green and white parts)
Home-made croutons (small cubes)
Toasted pine nuts
Chopped green pimento-stuffed olives
Diced cooked shrimp
Hard-boiled eggs (if you want to be fancy, dice the whites, push the yolks through a sieve and serve them separately; otherwise just dice them fine)
Peel the tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, drop the tomatoes in the water for 10 seconds, drain and run cold water on them to stop the cooking. The skins will slip off easily. Core them and cut them in half horizontally. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl. Working over the sieve so the bowl catches the juices, gently squeeze the tomatoes and use your fingers to remove the seeds, letting them drop into the seive. Once all the tomatoes are seeded, press the seeds with the back of a spoon to release all the juice into the bowl. Discard the seeds.
Add the vinegar and the bread to the bowl and toss to combine.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine about half the tomatoes, half the cucumber, half the soaked bread (with some of the liquid and half the red bell pepper. Transfer the purée to a large bowl. Put the rest of the tomatoes in the food processor with the remaining cucumber, soaked bread and liquid, bell pepper, garlic, salt, Espellette (or cayenne or Aleppo) pepper and the water, and purée till smooth. With the motor running, pour the olive oil in a stream through the top.
Transfer the contents of the food processor bowl to the bowl with the first batch, and use an immersion blender to make the purée as smooth and frothy as possible. When you think it's smooth enough, purée it a little more. Correct the seasoning, adding salt or red pepper if needed.
Chill, covered, in the fridge about two hours, then serve with whatever garnishes you've selected – either garnishing each individual bowl, or passing the garnishes at the table.