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Going Gazpacho

The cold soup classic is made with or without tomatoes.

Before tomatoes got to Spain, gazpachos were made with bread, almonds, oil, and vinegar; modern versions add onions, cucumbers, peppers, and parsley.
Before tomatoes got to Spain, gazpachos were made with bread, almonds, oil, and vinegar; modern versions add onions, cucumbers, peppers, and parsley. (Photo / Jim Scherer)

Gazpacho, the Spanish specialty cold soup usually associated with tomatoes, originally contained none. Bread, garlic, vinegar, oil, and almonds were the essential ingredients, because tomatoes - which appear in so much of Spain's food - didn't arrive in Europe until Columbus returned with them from the New World. So some gazpacho recipes are white from bread, almonds, grapes, and melons; others are green from fresh herbs, peppers, and lettuces. But the bowl made most often by American cooks is bright red, the version from Andalusia, which, writes cookbook author Penelope Casas, was "prepared and consumed by workers laboring in the fields under the fiery Andalusian sun." The bowls we sip today, she says, are lighter and contain less bread and olive oil than the original. And machines like blenders and food processors eliminate the chore of pounding everything in a mortar. But unlike the Andalusian cooks who strain their soups, we prefer our gazpacho flecked with just enough fresh vegetables to make the mixture crunchy. Chill it thoroughly, and you have one of summer's finest moments waiting in the fridge.

TOMATO GAZPACHO
SERVES 4

In her gazpacho, Arlene Tofias of Wayland uses 3 cups of tomato juice instead of fresh tomatoes, as we do here. Both work well. The fresh fruit gives the soup a more seasonal taste.

4 large tomatoes, cored
1 small sweet onion, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 pickling cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, basil, oregano)
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/3 cup sherry vinegar, or more to taste Generous dash of hot sauce
1 bunch scallions, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

Have on hand a large bowl of very cold water.

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the tomatoes, count to 10, then transfer them to the cold water. When the tomatoes are cool, peel off the skins. Halve the tomatoes horizontally, squeeze the halves over a bowl so the seeds pop out, then discard the seeds. Coarsely chop the flesh.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the onion, garlic, green and red bell peppers, cucumbers, herbs, sugar, and red pepper until very coarse.

Add the tomatoes and salt. Pulse again just until the mixture is chunky.

Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the vinegar and hot sauce. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, red pepper, or vinegar if you like.

Cover and refrigerate the soup for 4 hours or until well chilled. Taste again for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Ladle the gazpacho into bowls or large cups, sprinkle with scallions and parsley, and serve at once.

GREEN GAZPACHO
SERVES 4

Spanish cookbook author Penelope Casas makes this green gazpacho, which she strains through fine mesh sieve before serving. We prefer to skip that step, so that the mixture is coarse with bread, cucumbers, green peppers, cilantro, parsley, and lettuce. If you like, use basil in place of cilantro, stir in pureed fresh tomatoes (see tomato gazpacho at left), and sprinkle the top with chopped browned almonds.

4 slices sandwich bread, crusts removed
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 small onion, cut into 2-inch pieces
3 pickling cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, or to taste
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 cup cold water
1/2 cup finely chopped leaf lettuce

Tear the bread into bite-sized pieces. Place them in a bowl. Cover with water and let soak for 10 minutes. With your hands, remove the bread from the water and squeeze it to remove the excess moisture.

In a food processor, pulse the garlic, onion, cucumbers, bell pepper, cilantro, parsley, and salt until very coarse. With the machine running, add the bread through the feed tube, then the oil, sherry and wine vinegars, and the 1 cup of water.

Transfer the mixture to a bowl. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or sherry vinegar if you like. Stir in the lettuce. Cover and refrigerate the soup for 4 hours or until well chilled. Taste again for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Ladle into bowls or cups and serve at once.

Adapted from Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain by Penelope Casas (Alfred Knopf, 1996).

Ask the Cook: Salad Days

I had salad in a very good restaurant and was disappointed that the greens were icy cold and the dressing was served on the side (not by request). It made me wonder what is the right way to prepare a perfect summer salad?
J.B. /// Needham

If you start with tender leaf lettuce, some arugula, and herbs such as basil, a rinse in cool water is all that is required to prepare the greens. A quick whirl in a salad spinner or a gentle roll in paper towels will remove excess moisture. I tell students never to serve "skinny-dipping" greens. By that, I mean the lettuce should be neither naked nor swimming. Never put greens on a plate, even as a garnish, with nothing on them, and a dressed salad should be glistening, not soaked. In a restaurant, the garde-manger, or "cold-side" cook, builds and dresses a salad to order. Foods that might spoil, such as protein or dairy garnishes, are refrigerated. Greens can be left unrefrigerated but need to be protected from contamination - kept away from raw meat and poultry, for example - since they cannot be decontaminated with heat. This can be done by covering them with moist paper towels.

To dress a salad, drizzle it with a tiny bit of the "sauce," sprinkle with salt and pepper, and gently mix the greens with tongs to distribute the dressing evenly, adding more as necessary. Toss garnishes - nuts, berries, etc. - in with the salad so they are coated with the dressing. Lift the salad out of the bowl and onto a cool plate, leaving behind excess dressing.

By Peter J. Kelly, a chef-instructor at Johnson & Wales University.

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