Ripening the palate with gazpacho

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The tomatoes have been long-coming this year. It’s typical in this climate, which tends to be cooler than tomatoes would like. Still, we want our tomatoes. We plant them and wait, and long months later, we begin to see red.

tomat01With anticipation comes longing. As I waited out my slow-growing Roma and Better Boy plants, I thought of what I would make with their fruit. Caprese salad, my favorite: topping rounds of mozzarella with slices of ripe tomatoes, salt and pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, shreds of fresh basil. A BLT…nothing more need be said. Homemade pasta sauce, salsa.

A lot of pressure on two plants, but why not? Then, I thought, gazpacho! I’d never made it, but everything about it made sense….tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic, bell pepper, blended into a blur of deliciousness, vegetable soup served cold.

I had only had gazpacho once before, years ago, in Hollywood, sitting across an outdoor cafe table from an author I was interviewing, a delightful and talented soul I’ve never forgotten. He knew the Beats, he wrote of Bohemia, a place ever-present as long as there is the right state of mind. As we slurped our delicious gazpacho, so laden with garlic it seemed to emit fumes though cold, my interview subject remarked, “We’re going to have Bohemian breath.”

veggs01Such experiences — and dishes — are worth it. I would make gazpacho. A savory, healthful soup with no cooking? Who shouldn’t try it.

On one of our warmer August afternoons, I gathered what Romas had ripened (they came a bit earlier than the Better Boy tomatoes) and assembled the other vegetables on the docket. Despite seeming like a tomato-centric dish, gazpacho gives equal weight to cucumber, onion and bell pepper in many recipes. Garlic, of course, is an aromatic element.

vegg02All are chopped — not to oblivion but to fine yet discernible chunks — in the food processor. The gazpacho is flavored with salt and pepper, white wine vinegar and thinned to a more souplike consistency with tomato or vegetable juice (I chose the latter).

The longer the soup sits, the more the flavors evolve and come forth. The next evening, even warmer, I was tired and glad to have something ready in the fridge for my meal. I decided a gooey grilled cheese sandwich might be a nice accompaniment.
gazpach02The soup tasted as fresh as anything I had eaten. I could identify each vegetable, crisp and garden fresh. It was like soup AND salad in one! As I ate it, as with many things one eats that are truly good for them — I felt my energy rise, a bristling shiver of positive response. So refreshing…and it tasted good, too!

It may be too much to reveal but I will, anyway, that I later burped, garlic and cucumber, reverberating and reminding me, not only of the soup that had just been, but the echoes of Bohemian breath throughout the ages.

Gazpacho
From “The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook” (1999)
Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
23 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not over process!

After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.
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