Bowl o’ summer

Henri’s hot for cold soup

Photo by Thelonious Gonzo (via Flickr)

Henri’s Better Boys are beginning to ripen, he’s buying fat summer vegetables by the armload, and he’s thinking about soup. Not heavy winter soups, but summer soups, Mediterranean summer soups. Gazpacho.

Some of my fondest memories are of lazy afternoons spent wandering the back streets of seductive and sensuous European cities during my 20s, seeking out small cafés and enjoying complete anonymity as I sat alone sipping cappuccinos at sidewalk tables. Granted, by midnight I often had fallen in with a crowd and sometimes awoke in the morning on strangers’ couches and, on occasion, in strangers’ beds. But the afternoons! Alone and young and with every pore of my body open to experience and life!

Often I would sit for hours at a sidewalk café, reading and watching, watching and reading—and wondering about my former classmates back home who were surely working as mechanics and waitresses and sadly suffering from small-town, middle-America ennui.

My favorite summer, by far, was the one I spent in Barcelona. In April, after three glorious months exploring the city on my own, I met a young art student, and we moved in together. Many were the late mornings we spent in the museums—the Picasso, the Miro and others—and then, always, to our favorite outdoor café, Tres Gatos, for a long lunch before returning to our flat for our siesta.

And always it was the same. Though tempted by the fresh fish and the many variations on paella, we always ordered the gazpacho. Well, gazpacho, fresh bread, and two or three glasses of Rioja or, if we were feeling particularly mischievous, cava, a delightful Champagne-like sparkling wine.

I have fond memories of the wide, cool, refreshing bowls of gazpacho and our dark Catalán waiter, Xavier. Though it would be difficult to exactly duplicate the gazpacho from those days at Tres Gatos, I’ve been able to create the next-best thing. Dr. Epinards, take note.

Gazpacho is a tomato-based soup, served cold and garnished with bite-sized pieces of other fresh vegetables, then topped with croutons.

Use the following as the basic recipe, keeping in mind that all amounts are adjustable and that it’s paramount that the vegetables, particularly the tomatoes, be fresh and, preferably, vine-ripened. And don’t forget the most important ingredients, the vino and the siesta.

Henri’s gazpacho

5-8 large tomatoes cut into wedges

1 onion, chopped

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons red- or white-wine vinegar

2 1/2 cups ice water

6 ice cubes

1-2 tablespoons salt

Plus, any of the following for garnishes: cucumber, red and green bell peppers, onions, slices of hard-boiled egg, parsley, croutons

Purée the tomatoes, onion, cucumber and garlic in a blender or food processor, about a cup at a time. Then pour the mixture into a large bowl or pitcher and add the oil, the vinegar and salt to taste. Whisk in the ice water and add ice cubes. Chill, then whisk again and serve. Cut garnishes into bite-sized pieces—should be arranged in separate bowls so that diners can customize their gazpachos to their individual tastes. Especially delicious with a good pinot grigio. Salud!