Summer to me has become synonymous with Gazpacho. Those ripe summer flavors of tomato, cucumber and bell pepper completely epitomize what summer means to me--a dose of fresh, raw crispness in the middle of a sultry day.
Gazpacho is said to have originated in Andalusia, Spain. There are two different theories about where the name came from. According to James Beard award-winning cook author Clifford A. Wright:
The origin of the word gazpacho is uncertain, but etymologists believe it might be derived from the Mozarab word caspa, meaning "residue" or "fragments," an allusion to the small pieces of bread and vegetables in a gazpacho soup. On the other hand, it may be a pre-Roman Iberian word modified by the Arabic . . .The original gazpacho was bread, water and olive oil pounded together in a large bowl out in the fields by the farm laborers, who would make it their lunch. Over the years it has developed into the tomato, cucumber and bell pepper blended soup we know today.
José Briz, who wrote a book on gazpacho, also suggests that the word derives from the Hebrew gazaz, meaning to break into pieces, referring to the bread base.
When I was in high school my mother discovered Gazpacho and whipped some up for us in the blender. This was around the time that cooking shows like "The French Chef" and "The Galloping Gourmet" were widening our culinary horizons for the first time. It seemed like at least once a week we were hit with something new--Ratatouille, Curried Chicken, Fondue. And Gazpacho.
I don't know where she got the recipe, but we were skeptical about the whole idea of cold soup. And what she served us were mugs filled with finely chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers. I don't remember any other flavorings, and I don't remember being all that impressed with it. I was so unimpressed, as a matter of fact, that I decided I didn't care for it and never tried it again.
Until a few years ago when my friend and co-worker brought me a taste from a batch she made from The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook, by Thisbe Nissen and Erin Ergenbright. It was what I later found out a good Gazpacho is supposed to be: a perfect blend of all ingredients, with none standing out above the other. I immediately made her give me the recipe and it has become my staple summer dish.
While most recipes call for some form of bread or breadcrumbs, I like the light fresh flavor of this recipe. You can use any kind of tomatoes, cucumbers or bell peppers (each adds its own particular flavor), red or white onions, and red wine or sherry vinegar. Although I should warn you, once I tried the sherry vinegar, I haven't looked back.
Place in blender* (reserving any combination of chopped tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and onion for garnish):
3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1/2 small onion, chopped
4 tomatoes, chopped
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup ice water
salt and pepper to taste
Blend until desired consistency.
*Having acquired my Cuisinart stick blender since writing this post, I now just throw all of the ingredients into a large jar and give it a whirl with that. Makes it much easier.
Adapted from The Ex-Boyfriend Cookbook, by Thisbe Nissen and Erin Ergenbright (HarperCollins 2002)