This classic Spanish soup is traditionally served chilled, and is the perfect foil to one of those oppressive summer heat waves. There are many variations, but most Gazpachos contain ripe tomatoes. The dish originates from Valencia, a region of Spain famous for its tomatoes. Served with a good crusty herb-scented bread, this dish is a refreshing meal in itself for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The technique used here is maceration. We expose and introduce all the ingredients, and allow them to commingle so they impart their various properties onto each other, allowing the dish to ‘stew in its own juices’, as it were. This is the principle behind cooking with marinades, making salad dressings, and pickles. All the ingredients are raw when they go into the pot, but it could be argued that they undergo a transformation by the time they reach the spoon.
Variations could include tropical fruits, cranberries, or even melon. By adding, subtracting and replacing certain ingredients the possibilities are endless.
1. Pass the tomatoes, including the juice through a food mill into a large bowl, or pot. A food mill is like a strainer with a handle-operated scraper. If you don’t have a food mill, pass the juice through a strainer and chop the tomatoes as finely as you can. With very clean hands they can even be squeezed and squeezed. The objective is to achieve a thick, course, even texture. Try to resist the shortcut of using a blender or food processor. The blending process will negatively affect the texture of the tomato.
2. Split the peppers the long way, and discard the seeds, stem and white interior ribbing. Pass the peppers through a juicer. If you don’t have a juicer, put them in a blender, then through a fine strainer. Add the red pepper juice to the tomatoes.
3. Peel the cucumbers, split them the long way, and with a spoon, remove and discard the seeds. Finely chop, or mince, the cucumber, and add to the tomato-pepper mixture.
4. Add the cilantro, and a couple of shots of vinegar. Be stingy with the vinegar. Its presence here is to interplay with the tomato’s acidity. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out. Adjust for salt and pepper. Cover and set in the refrigerator overnight, and serve chilled.
Note: Because of the high acid content of the tomatoes the stability of this soup is very fragile. If it is not kept at 40 degrees or slightly below, it can turn sour from one moment to the next. The vinegar should help balance the acidity. Sometimes a spoonful or two of sugar will help prolong its life as well. But be aware that once it turns sour it should not be eaten.
Also, a word about canned tomatoes. There are some produce that can quite well. Tomatoes are one of them. Avoid cans that appear to be bulging from the center, and try to avoid cans that are dented. If you see cans that are damaged alert the store’s manager, as they present a serious health risk to anyone who might use them. A good quality canned tomato will do fine, but if you are using fresh tomatoes use the following method for peeling them.
With a sharp knife cut out and discard the stem area, in the shape of a small cone. On the opposie side cut a small X, just deep enough to pierce the skin. Place the tomato in a pot of water at a rolling boil for 18-20 seconds, no more. You do not want to cook the tomato. Immediately place the tomato in ice/water. The skin should peel easily. Cut the tomato in half horizontally and hold one half in your hand. Gently squeeze it to dislodge the seeds. Behold your peeled and seeded tomato.