Friday, April 1, 2011

Gazpacho from La Buena Mesa's Elizabeth Parrish

Hippocrene will have two new cookbooks out in just two weeks! We're very excited to have both authors on Hippocrene Cooks as guest bloggers this week and next. Today, Elizabeth Parrish, author of La Buena Mesa: The Regional Cooking of Spain, shares with us a delicious recipe for gazpacho. Be sure to check back next week for Giovanna's recipe from The Cooking of Emilia-Romagna! Elizabeth writes to us from Tarragona, Spain, which is about 60 miles south of Barcelona:

Summer is fast approaching and as food choices gradually shift from the hearty stews and legumes of winter to lighter fare; I begin to think about that pitcher of gazpacho that frequents my refrigerator once the warm weather hits. I like to mix up a batch and gradually eat (or drink!) it over a period of two to three days. It’s not just that it tastes good (it does); gazpacho also manages to be refreshing, satisfying and, between the juicy ripe tomatoes, the extra virgin olive oil and other fresh vegetables, a veritable antioxidant cocktail.

Tomatoes come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Spaniards distinguish between tomatoes that you use to make a sauce and those you toss into a green salad. Salad tomatoes are firm and have a greenish hue to them. All other varieties, be they large or small, pear-shaped or round are softer to the touch and yield more pulp and juice. Whenever I make gazpacho, I look for ripe, juicy tomatoes and, fortunately, the ones that work the best also happen to be the least expensive.

Another key ingredient to making a smooth gazpacho is olive oil. You want to choose a high quality, mild, extra virgin olive oil. While I love the aroma and flavor of aromatic olive oils, I find that they overpower the gentle tomato scent of gazpacho. In my opinion, mild fruity oils work best for this dish. I’ve used Nuñez de Prado, an unfiltered organic extra virgin olive oil from Andalusia that also happens to be available in the United States. Authentic Spanish sherry vinegar adds the finishing touch to this cold soup.

Gazpacho is one of those dishes that very much reflects the personal taste of the chef. Some like the sharpness of the onion and garlic to come through. Others want more or less cucumber. Personally, I prefer my gazpacho mild, with just a hint of onion and garlic. In the end, this is a cold tomato soup with tomato being the star. For this reason, I think that the soup is best when the base is delicately flavored. After that, diners can always personalize their gazpacho with the vegetable garnish, emphasizing one vegetable over the other to create their own balance, or forgoing the chopped vegetables altogether.

Gazpacho (Cold Tomato Soup)
(from La Buena Mesa: The Regional Cooking of Spain, page 167)

6 servings

6-inch length of a baguette, crust removed
1 cup ice water
8 ripe juicy tomatoes, unpeeled, cut in eighths
Pinch sugar
1 cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 small Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic
2 large spoonfuls sherry vinegar
½ cup mild extra virgin olive oil

1. Place the baguette piece in a bowl and add the ice water, followed by the tomatoes and a pinch of sugar. Add the cucumber, green pepper, onion, garlic, vinegar, and olive oil. 

2. Using an immersion blender, blend until smooth (or you can use a blender or food processor and blend in batches). (I have a small Spanish kitchen and don’t even own a blender or food processor so I use an immersion blender. Using a deep bowl helps prevent splattering.)

3. Place a strainer over a mixing bowl and press the mixture through the strainer using the back of a wooden spoon. Salt to taste and chill thoroughly before serving. Whenever gazpacho is served, it’s customary to prepare small bowls of the individual chopped vegetables so that diners can garnish to taste. Another alternative is to serve the gazpacho with croutons. (In the case of croutons, make your own with the remaining baguette. Simply cut the bread into cubes and fry in abundant extra virgin olive oil.)

Gazpacho is even better the following day after the flavors have had time to blend.

Elizabeth Parrish has spent twenty-two years living and cooking in Spain. La Buena Mesa is the result of years of research and collecting recipes from friends, family, restaurants, and home kitchens across Spain. She currently resides in Tarragona, where she teaches English and is working on a collection of Catalan recipes.