Gazpacho: Simple, sophisticated
MADRID — In Spain, there are as many gazpachos as there are Spaniards. Every family here has its own recipe with its own little changes.
I much prefer gazpacho made in a food mill, as that allows for some texture, and that is the way it was made when I was young. Nowadays it is done in a blender, but it does not turn out exactly the same. Machineblended gazpacho with bread and olive oil is more like a salmorejo, but without that soup’s creamy smoothness.
Although tomatoes and peppers arrived on our tables by the 16th century, red gazpachos that used them did not become popular until the 19th century. Big landowner families that had a lot of country employees generally had a “gazpachero,” a man who would prepare gazpacho for the peasants working on their estates. These men made gazpacho by pounding the vegetable mixture in an olive wood bowl, as in a mortar. They were very patient, as it took quite some time.
The main difference between gazpacho and some of its variations lies in texture and emulsion. In a classic Spanish gazpacho, olive oil is simply stirred in at the end; in salmorejo, porra and other soups, the olive oil is emulsified, resulting in a brighter orange color and a smooth, creamy texture. Pipirrana’s components are the same as those in gazpacho, but they are diced; with the addition of a little water or ice cubes, it turns into a liquid salad, and the bread is served separately, for dipping.
(When making salmorejo or porra, which use a greater amount of bread, it is a good idea to process the ingredients twice, to achieve a smooth, velvety texture.)
Gazpacho is a sophisticated dish that takes to a multitude of variations. But with all its versatility, it still requires a certain balance of components. In particular, too much sherry vinegar or garlic can ruin it.
Here in Spain, gazpacho can be a drink, an appetizer, a tapa, a dip, a sauce or seasoning, a starter, a main dish, even a dessert. It is eaten at any time of the day and at any time during a meal. Nothing is more delicious than a piece of toast smeared with a little gazpacho or salmorejo for breakfast! Gazpacho goes well with almost everything but is difficult to pair with wine. The best wines to drink with gazpacho are sherries (fortified wines from Jerez) and whites.
Gazpacho can be served in a glass or bowl, on a plate, as a dip, with the garnishes on the side or over it, but always fresh or cold — never frozen, though, except for the exotic creations of the most adventurous chefs. The traditional earthenware bowl is perfect to maintain its cold temperature during hot summer months.
Llamas is a Madrid chef and cooking instructor at La Huerta del Emperador. She recently published “Let’s Cook Spanish, a Family Cookbook: Vamos a Cocinar Espanol, Recetas Para Toda la Familia” (Quarry Books, 2016).
This might be a bit thinner than the gazpachos you’re used to, but its consistency is authentically Spanish. Be sure to rinse the tomatoes before you use them.
Make ahead: The vegetables need to marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours and preferably overnight. 2½ pounds tomatoes and their juices, hulled and chopped, plus diced tomatoes for garnish 1 small (3½ ounces) seeded, chopped red bell pepper, plus diced red bell pepper for garnish cup (about 3 ounces) peeled, chopped cucumber (seedless or seeded), plus diced cucumber for garnish 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 slice day-old bread (crusts removed), torn into small pieces, plus small croutons for garnish (optional) 1½ teaspoons kosher or sea
salt, or more as needed 1½ tablespoons sherry vinegar, or more as needed Small pinch ground cumin
(optional) ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for optional drizzling (see headnote) Diced white onion, for
garnish Diced green bell pepper, for
garnish Combine the chopped tomatoes, red bell pepper, cucumber, garlic and bread, if using, in an earthenware or glass bowl. Add the salt, vinegar and cumin, if using, tossing to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least a few hours and preferably overnight.
To make the soup the traditional way, mash all the ingredients in the bowl. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a separate bowl, then, working in batches, use a flexible spatula to push the mashed mixture, including its liquid, through the strainer. After you have extracted as much moisture as possible from the solids, discard them.
Faster ways: Process the marinated mixture through a hand-cranked food mill (using its smallest-holed screen); or place the marinated vegetables and their liquid in a high-powered blender and puree on the highest speed for about 1½ minutes, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer. (Discard the solids afterward for both of those methods, too.)
Stir the oil into the strained gazpacho. Taste; add salt and/or vinegar, as needed. Transfer to an airtight container; refrigerate until ready to use.
Serve chilled, with the garnishes on the side - diced tomato, cucumber, onion, and red and green pepper; and croutons, if using — for everyone to help themselves. Drizzle with a little oil, if desired.
4 servings (5½ cups). Nutrition per serving: 320 calories, 4 g protein, 18 g carbohydrates, 29 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 480 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar