We’ve slid off the spatula of our searing African weather, into the low boil of Italian summer heat. After the abrupt shift to summer, we’re now getting the chance to become adjusted to our new life style. Which means we barely want to eat anything more than prosciutto and melon, or gazpacho.
Now, we have to come to an understanding. I’m using the word gazpacho, like we use the word spaghetti...it means something different to everyone who uses it. I do not want to debate what is an ‘authentic’ gazpacho. It’s too darn hot for the angels to be dancing on the head of that pin. Agreed?
In my world, a gazpacho is a cold soup, a pureed salad. I like a bit of texture in my gazpacho so it might be nuts, it might be caviar, or it might be garlicky croutons. As you would expect, priority goes to the vegetables that must be eaten quickest.
Making gazpacho is like being in a flavor lab; you can be a mad scientist, experimenting with flavor combinations, color palette, texture contrasts. What’s your worry? It’s just a bit of cold soup, so fool around, release your inner kitchen artist.
What you need to make gazpacho: a blender. The more powerful, the better. Good quality extra virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper. Those are the essentials.
Gazpacho with Caviar
Round up a handful of tomatoes, a small zucchini, a little red onion, a carrot, a stalk of celery, a few leaves of radicchio, a garlic clove, and some chili pepper. A few fresh leaves of basil, parsley, and even a little mint would be nice.
Before you throw everything into the blender, reserve a little bit of each of the vegetables, and finely chop them, including the fresh herbs. Douse with a little bit of olive oil, red vinegar, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate.
Roughly chop all of your vegetables and put them in the blender. Add a few generous glugs of olive oil, a shot of vinegar, a few pinches of salt, and a couple of grinds of pepper. I like to seed the tomatoes before I thrown them into the mix. Otherwise you wind up with the seeds stuck in your teeth, or they wind up on the upper lip of your lunch mate and you have to make that waving mime flick gesture that tells them, “Dude, you got something icky on your lip.”
Blender 101: Start on a low speed and build up. Add enough liquid at the bottom of the mixture to get things going. Never, ever stick the spoon in while the blender is going. Not even for the tiny bits stuck at the top. It never ends well, trust me.
Turn the speed all the way down before you turn off the blender. This eliminates the huge surprise factor when you turn the blender on the next time, it makes this horrible, huge WHIRRRR sound and food goes flying everywhere. Can you tell this is the voice of someone who has cleaned flying tomatoes off the kitchen window?
Taste your gazpacho. Does it have enough spicy heat? Salt? A good balance of acid? Tobasco sauce can be your friend. It brings salt, spice and acid all in a few squirts. Worcestershire sauce will make your gazpacho taste like a V-8 bloody mary, then you’ll be wanting vodka at lunch and it’s just a downward spiral. Put the Worchestershire sauce away.
If it needs a little more liquid, add a few tablespoons of tomato sauce, and a little water. We haven’t had a lot of rain this year, so the vegetables are not as juicy as they normally are. I’m finding that I have to add water most of the time.
When you are happy with your gazpacho, chill it for a few hours to let all the flavors relax and mingle. If things are under control in our house, I make it while I’m having my breakfast. There is something so satisfying about finishing breakfast and knowing you have lunch already made.
When you are ready to serve the gazpacho, add the reserved chopped vegetables into the mix. Keeping the chopped vegetables separated until serving time will give them more texture and crunch. Pour the gazpacho into individual serving bowls and top with caviar..either the kind that comes from fish, or the vegetable kind. We had both in the house the other day, so that’s what we ate.
We’re not rolling in caviar, in case you are wondering. Lumpfish caviar is cheap and flavorful, so I use it as an accent to feel extravagant. Cheap thrills from cheap caviar...we take pleasure where we can find it.
If you come across “Cavi-art” in your market, try some. I was introduced to Cavi-art products at the Tuscan Plate2Page workshop. They are a Danish company that makes picklely tasting vegetable ‘caviars’ that are little flavor bursts, just like the real thing.
Cucumber Gazpacho with Pistachio
I was going for a pale, cool green palette with this soup.
One medium to large cucumber, a small-ish zucchini, a bit of sweet white onion, a handful of pistachios.
How much pistachio, you ask? As long as you feel like standing there, shelling pistachios, that’s how much. I get bored after a good sized handful, so that’s how much I used.
Puree the cucumber, zucchini, onion, and some of the pistachios with olive oil, salt, pepper and white vinegar. Taste, correct and chill.
For the garnish (can you call it a garnish if it’s in the bottom of the bowl? Does a garnish always have to be on top?): white beans, slivers of tomato, chopped green olives, more pistachio and a bit of shaved feta cheese. Pour your cucumber gazpacho over the under garnish and it’s a bit like a pureed Greek salad, isn’t it?
Did you notice? I’m not giving you formal recipes. This is summer time, fool around a little, listen to your inner voice, trust your instincts, and tell me if you hit on something wonderful!