There were 11 of us at the beach. Eleven hungry people, and no one ate the gazpacho.
There was a reason, of course. A good reason, though it was actually a bad reason: It looked gross.
Gazpacho is one of Spain's best-known and best-loved contributions to the world's cuisine. It is a tomato-based soup, loaded with lots of other fresh vegetables and served cold. Traditionally it is thickened with bread, but it can also be thin. A bit of olive oil is usually mixed in, with some vinegar for a little extra bite. If you want to make it spicy hot -- and in Spain, they do not -- you can add as many chile peppers as you want.
It's light and refreshing, unbeatable as both an appetizer and a main course; it is even served as a beverage in Spain. Summer is the best time to make it, when the tomatoes and other vegetables are at their absolute peak.
So what went wrong with my wife's gazpacho at the beach?
It was a combination of two ideas that are great individually but when combined make a mess. Literally.
Idea No. 1 is that she likes to put fresh spinach in her gazpacho. It is not a traditional ingredient and the gazpacho-loving crowds of Seville, where it was first introduced, would probably disdain its use. But spinach is a nice counterpoint to tomatoes and it fits in with the idea of buying whatever looks good at the farmers' market and adding it to the soup. Besides, it tastes great in gazpacho.
Idea No. 2 is that gazpacho often gains an additional layer of interest -- a distinctive mouthfeel, as they say -- when it is pureed.
So she pureed the spinach and she pureed the tomatoes. The green and the red mixed together and turned into a sickly sort of gray. Frankly, it looked like a horse had eaten something that did not agree with it.
So no one ate it. But I tried a spoonful and it was absolutely delicious.
At the still-new Revolution Grille in Sylvania, the chef and owner Rob Campbell has been serving a gazpacho made from green tomatoes and English cucumbers. It has a distinctive bright-green color that is refreshing just to look at. And that was the concept he was going for: "I like it to be fresh and light," he said. "Usually you serve it during the summer when it's hot, so [I wanted] a real bright flavor."
Mr. Campbell thickens his gazpacho only by pureeing it. He does not add bread or bread crumbs, "because we wanted it to be gluten-free. It also made it a little too thick," he said.
At Revolution Grille, the soup is topped with a garnish of diced watermelon along with minced poblano chiles, minced cilantro, and salt. The mixture is simultaneously sweet, spicy, and salty, he said, plus the soup has acidity from the tomatoes. Now that tomatoes are becoming ripe the restaurant may soon stop serving the green-tomato version, he said.
Our Farmers' Market Gazpacho takes a couple of shortcuts that traditionalists would abhor. We start with canned (or bottled) tomato juice, and why not? It tastes good, it's already made, and it serves as a good base for the fresh tomatoes we always add later. The other shortcut is to mix this tomato juice with an equal amount of chicken stock, creating a layer of richness and depth not found in true gazpacho. This step is especially helpful if you are planning to serve the soup as an entree.
Fresh tomatoes are essential, as are olive oil and vinegar -- it's not for nothing that people call gazpacho "liquid salad." Garlic is a great addition, too, but from there you are basically on your own to add whatever vegetables you desire or that look good at the store. We always add carrots, celery, cucumbers, and diced zucchini, especially now when they are so abundant. Green or red peppers make a handsome and flavorful addition, and we also like to add a bit of fresh herbs such as basil or tarragon. Cilantro would work, too.
As mentioned, chopped spinach goes uncommonly well with this soup, but puree it at your own risk.
For a more traditional gazpacho, we turned to a Spanish cookbook written by Esperanza Luca de Tena. This version uses fewer vegetables (just tomatoes, cucumbers, and green pepper), gets its rich sheen and flavor from the olive oil, and uses bread to thicken it.
So I made it, translating metric measurements into cups and ounces as we went. And this recipe used so much bread, a little more than half a pound (250 grams), that it tasted more like bread than gazpacho. It tasted far too much of oil, too (3 ounces, 1 dl), so I have cut way back on the bread and significantly back on the oil.
Finally, I made a green gazpacho, different from the one at the Revolution Grille because this one has no tomatoes at all and uses cucumbers as its base. I threw in equal amounts of fresh parsley and fresh mint, though cilantro in place of the mint would also add an intriguing touch. Just a few ounces of chicken stock for flavor and liquidity, and some oil and vinegar, and I had made an absolutely gorgeous and refreshing blender full of gazpacho. Stealing the idea from Mr. Campbell, I garnished it with a few pieces of diced watermelon for contrasting color as well as sweetness, and added a leaf of mint purely for show.
One last important word: All gazpachos need to be served chilled, so they require a minimum of two hours in the refrigerator. On particularly hot days in Spain (and this country), people often put an ice cube in each bowl to make it colder. That works fine, but it has the disadvantage of watering down the soup a bit.
So if you know it is going to be hot when you serve it, don't put all of the soup in the refrigerator to chill it. Save a little for an ice cube tray, and pop it in the freezer. Then when you serve it, put a frozen cube of soup into each bowl or cup. It will make the soup cold but lose none of that great gazpacho flavor.
Contact Daniel Neman at email@example.com or 419-724-6155.
Green Tomato Gazpacho
2 pounds green tomatoes
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 lime, zested and juiced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 English cucumber, chopper
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 cup diced watermelon
1 teaspoon minced poblano pepper
1 teaspoon minced cilantro
1/4 teaspoon salt
Put tomatoes, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice, lime zest, garlic, shallot, cucumber, oil, and 1 tablespoon salt in a blender and puree it smooth. In a small bowl, mix together watermelon, poblano pepper, cilantro, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Use the watermelon salsa as a garnish for the gazpacho.
Source: Rob Campbell, Revolution Grille
2 slices bread
2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic
2 ounces cucumber
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar, preferably sherry vinegar
Salt to taste
Pinch of sugar
Remove and discard the bread crusts, tear bread into small pieces, and soak in water at least 1 hour. Squeeze the water out of the bread.
Slice the tomatoes into several pieces. Place them in a blender or food processor along with the bread, green pepper, garlic, cucumber, oil, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Process for a few minutes until smooth. You may need to do this in separate batches.
Refrigerate at least 2 hours (or serve immediately with ice cubes). If desired, garnish with fresh croutons, diced cucumber, diced green pepper, diced red pepper, diced onion, a diced hard-boiled egg, or any combination.
Source: Adapted from The Best 100 Spanish Recipes, by Esperanza Luca de Tena
Spicy Cucumber Gazpacho
2 English cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
3 green onions, cut in 1-inch lengths
1-2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and halved lengthwise
Small handful Italian parsley, large stems removed
Small handful spearmint or lemon verbena leaves
2 large cloves garlic, peeled, and minced or pressed
1/2 cup chicken stock OR water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Tabasco sauce, preferably green, to taste
1 teaspoon salt
Put the cucumbers, bell pepper, green onions, jalapenos, parsley, mint OR lemon verbena, and garlic into a blender, and liquefy. Add the stock, oil, vinegar, lemon juice, Tabasco sauce, and salt, and pulse to combine. Taste, and correct for seasoning with more salt or lemon juice, and thin if necessary with more stock or water.
Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Garnish with diced watermelon OR diced green pepper, diced cucumbers and lemon zest.
Yield: 6 servings (2 quarts)
Source: thelunacafe.com, by Susan M. Bradley
Farmer's Market Gazpacho
1 quart tomato juice
1 quart chicken stock
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
6 medium tomatoes, diced
1 large cucumber, peeled and diced
1 medium sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 zucchini, diced
1 green OR red pepper, diced
1/2 bulb fennel, sliced thin, optional
2 tablespoons fresh basil OR 1 tablespoon fresh tarragon, chopped, optional
1/2 avocado, sliced, for garnish, optional
Combine everything except avocado in a large bowl, and refrigerate at least 2 hours. Puree if you are more interested in texture than appearance. When serving, float optional avocado slices on top of each bowl.
Yield: About 4 quarts
Source: Mary Anne Pikrone