Ah, tomato, that sweet, delicate fruit that is the base of so many excellent dishes. From bolognese sauce to Capri salad, tomatoes have been featured as culinary stars in most of the western hemisphere’s cooking for centuries. Rich in vitamins A and C, tomatoes are not only healthy but delicious.
And what better time than now, late summer, when local tomatoes are peaking, than to try a new version of this beloved fruit? Gazpacho, a cool soup from the south of Spain, is one of the most popular Spanish dishes you’ll find, after paella of course. Incredibly easy to prepare, this refreshing soup is a staple in most Spanish kitchens from April to September, when batches of it are prepared daily to fight off the heat and enjoy summer’s vegetable bounty without having to turn on the stove (temperatures in the Andalucia region can easily reach 100F and air conditioners are not popular.)
Amazingly, gazpacho would not have been possible without America. The Olive Press, a Spanish news outlet, reports that as a New World food, tomatoes were not brought to Spain until the early 1500s when conquistadors introduced the red and juicy fruit to Spaniards. And then it took almost 200 years for people to incorporate them into their diets since they were scared of eating them because tomatoes come from the nightshade family of plants, which is poisonous. The word tomato comes from the Aztec word *tomatl.*
There are several ways of preparing gazpacho, from the basic, traditional recipe to new styles that incorporate watermelon and cherries, but the classic, most famous version is from Sevilla, the capital of Andalucia and one of the most beautiful and colorful towns in the country.
The base, of course, is tomatoes, preferably bought at a local farm stand in the North Fork or picked from your garden — store versions don’t have the same consistency. Roma tomatoes, San Marzano or vine-ripe tomatoes work the best. Because this is a dish that requires no stove, freshness and good quality of ingredients are key elements to highlight flavors. You’ll also need cucumbers, bell peppers, garlic, red wine vinegar and bread. No pre-sliced, factory-produced bread please, but bakery-made — thick, with no holes, firm bread. Olive oil, salt and pepper are musts as well.
To prepare simply blend all vegetables together in a food processor, soak the bread in water (no crust) then add vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Blend until it emulsifies and then put the soup through a colander. Store in the fridge and let it cool before serving. Remember, the colder the gazpacho, the better.
To serve, pour chilled gazpacho in small individual bowls or glasses and chop some small pieces of cucumbers and bell peppers and fry, or bake, small pieces of bread, crouton-style, to garnish. You can also use chopped hard-boiled egg.
And voilà, enjoy!
* 1/2 kilo ripe tomato (about 1 pound)
* 1/2 green pepper
* 1 garlic clove
* 1/2 cucumber
* 3.3 oz olive oil
* 4 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
* 1 slice of good, white bread