It’s summer. It’s hot. It’s hard to imagine anything, if you’re a tomato lover, more purely thrilling and chilling than a great bowl of gazpacho.
Dive in. Lift your spoon, take a sip. Perfectly smooth, more satin than silk, it’s a burst of flavor in your mouth: ripe tomato, but bright — uplifted by the lovely soft tang of sherry vinegar.
That is the taste of summer: essential.
Garnishes skitter on top, and that’s where the fun begins, the play. Finely diced cucumber, bell pepper, croutons, maybe radish. Small cubes of avocado make it sexy. If it stops there, you’ve got a spectacular vegan treat. Classic.
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Or it could get fancy, with chopped anchovy, grated cured egg yolk, sliced Spanish olives with their happy red pimento centers. Either way, there are few things that speak as deliciously, refreshingly of summer.
That’s the red one everyone knows, gazpacho sevillano. There are also white gazpachos — rich and almondy and grapy. And green gazpachos, such as chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s glorious blitz of cukes, celery, spinach, basil, parsley (find it in his wonderful cookbook Plenty).
But there’s nothing like the essential, Andalusia’s classic red.
Gazpacho’s origin goes way back, to sometime between the 7th and 13th centuries, when it was pounded bread with garlic, salt, olive oil, vinegar. Eight hundred years later, each of those ingredients remains essential. The icy soup’s showier, fresher players — tomato, cucumber, peppers — showed up along the way. Tomato + bread + olive oil + tang = nirvana.
So where can you splash into a bowl? Si Tapas in Uptown used to make a good one, but recently it was tart, bitter, perhaps spoiled. I can’t think of anyplace else that has one on the menu.
Happily, you don’t need a restaurant. You can make it at home. Make it ahead. Keep it around. Serve it to people you really like.
You see that display of tomatoes — the ripe ones, big and maybe ugly, fruits of deep color, bursting skin? That’s what you want. Buy lots. You’re halfway there. Make sure you have a great, fruity olive oil.
Some cooks whirl up a quick, chunky throw-everything-in-the blender version, and that’s nice and easy. In Spain the aesthetic is smooth as possible, strained to silky elegance. Try it that way, and your mind may be blown.
3 pounds ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 1/2 to 3 ounces French or Italian bread, crusts removed, torn or cut into small pieces (about 2 cups)
1 medium cucumber (English garden-variety or hothouse), peeled, seeded and cut into chunks
1 red bell pepper, seeded, peeled with a vegetable peeler and cut in chunks
2 to 3 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed in a press
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
A pinch of Espelette, cayenne or Aleppo pepper
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup best-quality olive oil
(See below for garnish ideas)
Peel the tomatoes: Bring a large pot of water to a boil, drop the tomatoes in the water for 10 seconds, drain and run cold water on them to stop the cooking. The skins will slip off easily. Core them and cut them in half horizontally. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a medium bowl. Working over the sieve so the bowl catches the juices, gently squeeze the tomatoes and use your fingers to remove the seeds, letting them drop into the sieve. Once all the tomatoes are seeded, press the seeds with the back of a spoon to release all the juice into the bowl. Discard the seeds.
Add the vinegar and the bread to the bowl with the tomato juices (if you have indeed peeled them) and toss to combine. For the more rustic version, simply place the bread in a small bowl and pour the vinegar over it.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine about half the tomatoes, half the cucumber, half the soaked bread (with some of the liquid) and half the red bell pepper. Transfer the purée to a large bowl. Put the rest of the tomatoes in the food processor with the remaining cucumber, soaked bread and liquid, bell pepper, garlic, salt, Espelette (or cayenne or Aleppo) pepper and the water, and purée till smooth. With the motor running, pour the olive oil in a stream through the top.
Transfer the contents of the food processor bowl to the bowl with the first batch, and use an immersion blender to make the purée as smooth and frothy as possible. When you think it’s smooth enough, purée it a little more. Correct the seasoning, adding salt or red pepper if needed.
Chill, covered, in the fridge about two hours. Or serve right away, adding a few ice cubes to each bowl. Either way, serve with whatever garnishes you’ve selected – either garnishing each individual bowl, or passing the garnishes at the table.
Garnishes (any or all of the following): Cucumber (peeled, seeded and finely diced), red, green or yellow bell peppers (or any combination, seeded and finely diced), radishes (sliced, diced or julienned), scallions, finely sliced (green and white parts), homemade croutons (small cubes), toasted pine nuts, chopped green pimento-stuffed olives, lump crabmeat, diced cooked shrimp, hard-boiled eggs (if you want to be fancy, dice the whites, push the yolks through a sieve and serve them separately; otherwise just dice them fine).