How to be blown away by your own gazpacho

If you cook a lot, you've probably made gazpacho before. Maybe you've even made it dozens of times. But how often has it blown you away?

Just as I thought.

And just as we're heading into prime tomato season, it seems the right time to give the perennially popular cold soup – whose birthplace is southern Spain – a fresh look. As I wrote in a story that snagged me a James Beard Journalism Award some years ago, the soup's roots go back a long way: It was born sometime between the 7th and 13th centuries (depending on who you ask). In any case, it pretty clearly predates the arrival of tomatoes in Europe, which may come as a surprise to anyone who knows gazpacho as a cold tomato soup with cucumbers and peppers thrown in. In fact, gazpacho was originally a cold soup of pounded bread, garlic and salt with olive oil and vinegar pounded in. Some of those ingredients are often forgotten by modern American cooks, which is one of the many reasons gazpacho so often falls flat. Bread is essential for body, garlic for a little bite and vinegar for zing; a olive oil adds silkiness and its own fruity personality. 

In the summertime, when the weather's hot and tomatoes are bursting with flavor, gazpacho is one of my favorite things to make and eat. 

I approach it one of two ways. If I want a quick-as-possible version, I soak bread in sherry vinegar, toss it in the food processor with chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, a red bell pepper, a little water, garlic, salt and a pinch of red pepper, give it a whirl and serve it right away with a couple of ice cubes in the bowl. Chopped cucumber, peppers and maybe scallions go on top as garnishes. It's pretty damn good.

Gazpacho garnishes tight.jpg

 

But if I want a version that's absolutely stunning, I take just a couple of extra steps – peeling and seeding the tomatoes, straining the intensely-flavored juice that runs out of them and adding that to the sherry vinegar-soaking bread. I use a vegetable peeler to peel the red bell pepper. And after I purée the soup in the food processor, I give it a whirl with an immersion blender, to make it super-smooth and silky. The few minutes extra results in a gazpacho that's out-of-this-world elegant. 

A great Andalusian gazpacho depends on two things: ripe tomatoes with fabulous flavor, and the right balance of ingredients – including the vinegar and olive oil. If you get your hands on great tomatoes and use them in this recipe, I'm pretty sure you'll be blown away: 

 

Either way, I generally use the same or garnishes. If I make the super-smooth version, I'll take more care by dicing them finely rather then chopping them in a hurry – and sometimes add radishes and/or avocados. I can't think of a more stunning vegan summertime starter.

You can also follow the lead of chefs, and get all creative with the garnishes. Want to go super-splashy, maybe for a special dinner party? Top each bowl with a spoonful of lump crabmeat or diced cooked shrimp (or boiled tiny bay shrimp), plus some diced ripe avocado and a few pretty sprigs of frisée.

Whether you go the super-smooth route or the quicker route, I think you'll love it. Go ahead: Give it a whirl!