Cold soup for the soul
Henri gets relief from the cooling flavors of gazpacho
This article originally appeared in the July 3, 2008, issue of the CN&R.
Among Henri’s fondest memories from his days wandering the world in search of excess—in love, food and drink—are of lazy summer days exploring Barcelona’s Barrio Gótico, the city’s Gothic Quarter. The crooked, Medieval cobblestone streets and alleys held mystery and surprise—the sweet, lilting melody of a street musician’s violin drifting in and out of shadows, a tiny, rare-book store, its window clouded from dust and smoke stains, an old blind vendor selling scarves, an absinthe bar, the Picasso museum, balconies with wrought-iron railings and bougainvillea cascading from earthenware pots, a hat shop. And then, suddenly, around a corner: a small café with a couple of tables on the sidewalk outside and a dark Catalan boywaiter, with a cigarette and starched white shirt, leaning against the little restaurant’s ancient stone doorway.
A brief rest and a bite to eat.
A glass of chilled white wine and a bowl of Gazpacho Andaluz.
Then later, perhaps, a nap.
The classic Spanish gazpacho originated in Andalusia, in southern Spain, where the cold, puréed soup helped ward off the area’s notoriously blistering summer heat. Served with a wide array of garnishes—from hard-boiled eggs to bell peppers—it’s found on menus and in kitchens today from the Costa del Sol and Sevilla to Cadaqués and San Sebastián, as well as in Portugal. It’s also become popular in California, which shares Iberia’s Mediterranean climate and where the soup’s ingredients grow bountifully.
Although tomatoes are a key ingredient in most gazpacho recipes, the soup dates from long before tomatoes were brought to Europe from the New World. Originally, the principal ingredients were stale bread, garlic, olive oil and vinegar. In fact, tomatoes are still not included in some Andalusian gazpachos, including “white gazpacho,” made with almonds. Other variations include non-puréed, chunky gazpacho, as well as gazpacho manchego, from La Mancha, a warm stew made with rabbit and game birds.
Chico might be the perfect town for gaszpacho Andaluz. Not only does the summer heat prescribe it, but nearly all the ingredients are grown locally and are available—fresh and inexpensive—at the farmers markets in town. Bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic and, of course, the red juicy tomatoes—for around $10, you can buy everything you need. Henri has found that the markets’ sweet Armenian cucumbers work wonderfully in his basic recipe. Paired with an appropriate beverage—and perhaps a nap—a big bowl of gazpacho can deliver at least partial relief from the heat of a Chico summer afternoon.
The following is Henri’s basic recipe for gazpacho, which L. used to call “the salad you drink.” Feel free to experiment, especially with garnishes.
5 or 6 large tomatoes (well ripened, preferably on the vine)
1 large cucumber
1 large green bell pepper
1/2 onion (preferably red torpedo)
1 clove garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 cups ice water
Bell peppers (all colors)
Cut the tomatoes into quarters. Peel and seed the cucumber, and cut into bite-sized chunks. Remove the stem from the bell pepper, and slice. Chop onion and garlic. Purée all vegetables in a blender or food processor, then pour into a large bowl. Add oil, vinegar, salt, and whisk until smooth. Add ice water (with the ice cubes), and stir. Transfer to large glass pitcher, and chill in refrigerator.
Cut garnish ingredients into small, bite-sized pieces and place in small, individual bowls. When gazpacho is chilled, whisk again, and serve. Top with at least three or four of the different garnishes, and salt and pepper to taste.
Note: Despite Henri’s penchant for Bordeaux, he prefers a lighter, drier wine with gazpacho. For authenticity, try a crisp rose (a pink Spanish rosado) or a fino sherry (Manzanilla). Gazpacho also pairs well with a light, dry Riesling or a Chenin blanc. Better yet, a sparkling wine. Henri’s recommendation: Blanc de Noir from Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma vineyard and winery that traces its origins to 19th-century Spain.