As we are all unhappily aware, this has not been a great summer for tomatoes, but with the mercury rising at last and the sun shining, it is finally the season for gazpacho.
The Spanish cold soup is, as Manuel Romero, executive chef of New Haven's Ibiza, puts it, "one of the greatest dishes for summertime. It takes the thirst out of you. It's very healthy and refreshing, and it fills you up."
While the classic gazpacho blends raw tomatoes, peppers, garlic, stale bread, olive oil, almonds and sherry vinegar, the soup adapts itself to any variation.
"The term 'gazpacho' is a reference only to a cold soup," says Adam Greenberg, executive chef at Barcelona in West Hartford. "It was peasant food" designed to use up "the ends of vegetables, day-old bread." But the soup can be made with whatever is ripe and ready. "Feel free to try different things," Greenberg says. "I've seen peach gazpacho."
Peach. Mango. Melon. Cucumber. Green grape. Almond. White asparagus. Even gazpachos using dry codfish or smoked salmon (mixed with lots of vegetables and fish stock). There are red gazpachos and white ones, green ones and yellow. There are gazpachos thin enough to drink like juice (from a chilled martini glass) and others so thick you need to use a spoon.
This summer at Barcelona, Greenberg began serving a watermelon gazpacho "in place of tomato gazpacho because watermelons were beautiful this year," he says.
Both Romero and Greenberg agree that any gazpacho is only as good as the ingredients. "When making gazpacho of any kind, it is imperative you use only fresh, ripe ingredients," Greenberg says. "Anything less makes an inferior product."
The same goes for non-produce ingredients. Even if the recipe calls for only a few tablespoons of sherry vinegar, "Make sure it's a good one," Romero says.
Even if you have the best ingredients, creating a consistent gazpacho is a challenge. Variations occur between batches even when cooks use the same recipe. "It's not easy to get the same flavor every time," Romero says. Cooks should taste as they go, adjusting the ingredients to balance the flavors.
At Barcelona in West Hartford, Greenberg often serves chilled glasses of watermelon gazpacho as a welcome to guests.
"Feel free to adapt this recipe by using other kinds of melons," he says. "There is no wrong way to figure out how to cook and learn what you like."
Greenberg's recipe calls for a jalapeño pepper, which adds a bit of fire to the chilled soup. Those preferring a milder flavor should omit the jalapeño and substitute a dash of hot pepper sauce such as Tabasco. Greenberg also uses Spanish piquillo peppers. If they are difficult to find, home cooks may substitute roasted red peppers.
Adam Greenberg's Watermelon Gazpacho
1/2 ripe seedless watermelon, only flesh of watermelon, not the white rind, plus more for garnish
1/2 Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped (optional)
1/2 bunch cilantro
4 piquillo peppers or 2 roasted red bell peppers