Food & Drink

My love affair with gazpacho

jleonard@newsobserver.com

I have a love affair with gazpacho that started when I was a child. In the 1970s, my parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary with a trip to Spain and brought me along. My father was born there, and the trip marked his first return since he left as a young boy. In preparation, my mom read James Michener’s “Iberia” and soon recreated his recipe for authentic gazpacho.

His classic version, popular throughout the Southern region of Andalucía, featured juicy, vine- ripened tomatoes, crusty, stale bread, cucumber, red bell pepper, a lot of good Spanish olive oil, top shelf sherry vinegar and, of course, salt and pepper. To top it off, my mother would coat days-old French or Italian bakery bread with a garlic-infused oil, then toast the morsels on low heat in the oven until they were crunchy, golden brown. My mouth waters just thinking about those garlicky croutons floating in the well-chilled soup.

Fast forward to today and I still make that soup several times during a hot summer. It’s the perfect way to consume the overabundance of lush, juicy tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers (yes, even a jalapeno or two) that may be growing in your garden or tempting you at the local farmers market.

As my go-to lunch staple, I will often enhance my gazpacho with protein in the form of diced avocado (did you know it contains the highest protein of any fruit?), a dollop of Greek yogurt or sprinkling of feta, grilled shrimp or smoky sausage (how much you add is really a personal preference). Depending on what I have on hand, I may pair it with a light sandwich, salad, quiche or my personal favorite, a cold wedge of potato and onion omelet, better known as a Spanish tortilla.

Since I’m not one to leave well enough alone, and time is always of the essence, I’ve created many adaptions of this traditional cold soup to suit my taste buds. For example, while many feel adding bread to thicken the classic Spanish gazpacho is a must-have, I leave it out. I also don’t feel it’s necessary to skin the tomatoes or remove their seedy pulp. I throw it all in a blender and let the whirring blades do their work. Some people also like a bit of chunky vegetables in their soup. For me, it depends. In this version, I prefer the smooth, silky texture created by the olive oil.

I’ve also expanded my horizons well beyond tomatoes. Gazpacho can be equally delicious when made with the bounty of summer’s sweet fruits. My colleague loves the cantaloupe gazpacho recipe I shared with him. I like to enhance it with a bright red zing of Sriracha sauce. I’ve recreated Whole Foods’ pineapple and cucumber gazpacho after sampling it at their salad bar, and I absolutely love the crunch of vegetables in another Spanish classic, white or blanco gazpacho, which is often sweetened with green grapes and sometimes thickened with blanched almonds. The version I enjoy uses half and half and no almonds.

No matter what ingredients you choose, you can’t beat gazpacho’s refreshing simplicity, the many ways it can be enjoyed and its powerful nutritional punch.

Reach Geiger at debbegeiger@gmail.com

Cantaloupe Gazpacho

Adapted from July 2013 issue of Bon Appetit magazine.

1 medium cantaloupe, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 tablespoons red onion, peeled and chopped

1/3 cup rice wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon kosher salt (more to taste)

White or black pepper to taste

Sriracha sauce or mint leaves

Place cantaloupe, cucumber, red onion and vinegar in blender and blend on high speed until almost pulverized. While the blender is running, add the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Garnish with a swirl of Sriracha sauce to taste, or use mint for a less spicy version.

Yield: 6 servings

Classic Spanish Gazpacho

Recipe testing notes: Be cautious about how much garlic and the type of onion you add. Vidalia and Maui onions work best. Too much raw garlic is never a good thing. For a smoother texture, you can try blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for two minutes. Then remove the skin, pulp and seeds. If you prefer a chunkier version, remove a tablespoon each of cucumber, red pepper, and onion for garnishing after the soup has chilled.

2 pounds tomatoes, roughly chopped (about 2 or 3 large)

1 medium cucumber, seeded and chopped

1 medium red pepper, seeded and chopped

2 small garlic cloves, chopped, divided

2 tablespoons diced sweet onion

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups cubed day-old bread

Use a blender to blend tomatoes, cucumber, red pepper, 1 chopped garlic clove, onion, 3 tablespoons olive oil and vinegar on high speed until they are completely pulverized. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place remaining 1 tablespoon chopped garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil and let it sit for at least an hour at room temperature. Preheat oven to 320 degrees. Toss bread cubes in olive oil and spread out in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Set aside. Once cool, top gazpacho with croutons immediately before serving.

Yield: 4-6 servings

Pineapple Cucumber Gazpacho

If you are using canned pineapple, use 2 (20-ounce cans); it will provide more fruit than you need but almost exactly the amount of juice that you need. Adapted from Whole Foods’ recipe.

3 cups chopped pineapple (about half of one large)

1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and and chopped (about 1 whole)

1-1/2 cups pineapple juice

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 jalapeño, halved and seeded

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (white parts only)

Optional garnish:

2 tablespoons finely chopped nuts (try almonds, pecans or macadamia)

2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Dollop of Greek yogurt

Sriracha sauce

Put pineapple, cucumber, pineapple juice, oil, lime juice, jalapeño and salt into a blender and purée until smooth. Add green onions and purée just until combined. Transfer soup to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least two hours. Ladle soup into bowls, and garnish with nuts, cilantro, yogurt or Sriracha sauce.

Yield: 6 servings

Chilled White Gazpacho

1-1/2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 bell pepper, finely diced

1/4 cup finely diced red onion

1/2 cup seedless white grapes, halved

1 pint half and half

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon white pepper, to taste

In the bowl of a food processor, combine cucumbers, garlic and chicken stock, and blend until very smooth, about one to two minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine yogurt, red and green bell peppers, onion, grapes and cream. Mix in cucumber mixture. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Chill soup at least one hour.

Yield: 6 servings

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