Chilling in Chico

Henri’s sure-fire way to make— and enjoy— good gazpacho

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. L. used to call it “the salad you drink.”

As you can imagine, I never really fit in as a child, endlessly teased by classmates and constantly reminded—even by my teachers—of my unusual and exotic tastes. But so what if I preferred Coppelia to Gunsmoke, old Judy Garland movies to James Bond?

But I had to get out. My little home town—to which my parents had moved from the south of France when I was 3—was choking me. So one dark November night in the year I turned 18, I packed a suitcase, wrote a brief note to my family, and caught a pre-dawn Greyhound for New York. Two days later I was boarding a plane for Amsterdam.

The next 10 wonderful years I spent taking in the sights and sounds and people of some of the most gorgeous cities on earth. Paris, Rome, Milan, Barcelona, Prague, Athens, Sydney, Hong Kong, Bangkok. Sometimes I’d stay only a week, other times for a year or more.

One of my fondest memories from those days is of lazy afternoons wandering the back streets of seductive and sensuous foreign cities, 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 often 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 laughing to myself at my former classmates back home who were surely working as mechanics and waitresses and trapped in loveless marriages.

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.

Gazpacho ingredients
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
six ice cubes
1-2 tablespoons salt

red and green bell peppers
slices of hard-boiled egg
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. Garnishes—cut 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!