The variety of gazpacho

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
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
3 ripe tomatoes, cored and seeded
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt, to taste

Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a blender or use a wand emersion blender and place all ingredients in a bowl and purée on high until everything is well blended.

Finish by adding the olive oil and mixing it in with a spoon.

Ladle into chilled or frozen bowls, and garnish each serving with a confetti of diced watermelon, cucumber and tomato.

Serves 6 to 8.

Ibiza's Honeydew Melon Gazpacho

Note: The results of this gazpacho recipe may vary, Romero says, "depending on how sweet the melon is and the quality of the sherry vinegar. If the olive oil is too acid you can mix it with a small amount of soy oil."

1 honeydew melon (seeded and cut away from rind)
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
5 scallions, stems and coarsest green ends removed
3/4 cup sliced blanched almonds
1/4 to 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup sherry vinegar

Cut all the fruit and vegetables into chunks. Put the melon, cucumber, scallions and almonds in a blender and purée the vegetables. Add the extra virgin olive oil slowly and then the sherry vinegar. Taste for salt, and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate gazpacho for a minimum of 1 hour before serving.

Serves 6 to 8.

Here are two recipes for classic tomato-based gazpacho

The first, provided by Manuel Romero, omits two traditional ingredients — bread and garlic. "Bread is one of the main ingredients in a gazpacho," says Romero. "[But in this version], I don't need bread to make it thicker."

The garlic is left out because it's used in its raw state, and Romero says, "I think raw garlic is not for everybody."

Ibiza's Tomato Gazpacho

1 pound ripe tomatoes, skins removed
3 scallions
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 small red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 tablespoon sliced blanched almonds
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt, to taste

Cut all the vegetables into chunks. Put the tomatoes, scallions, cucumber, almonds, and red bell pepper in a blender, and purée the whole mixture. Add the olive oil slowly and then the sherry vinegar. Taste for salt.

Place the gazpacho in the refrigerator for a minimum of 1 hour to chill before serving.

Serves 4.

The following recipe is for Barcelona restaurant's version of a traditional tomato-based gazpacho. The recipe appears in the restaurant's cookbook, available at the restaurant and in some bookstores. Because one of the owners of Barcelona is from Argentina, menu items tend to skew Latin. "It's a mix of Spanish and South American," Greenberg says.

Barcelona Gazpacho Soup

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 loaf day-old Italian bread, crusts removed and bread cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups tomato juice (V-8 preferred)

1/4 loaf day-old Italian bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 green bell pepper, seeded, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 English cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice

To make the soup: In a large mixing bowl combine the tomatoes, peppers and cucumber.

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer very gently for about 15 minutes, or until the garlic is browned and tender. Transfer to the mixing bowl and add the bread cubes.

Stir the ingredients together and then add the vinegar, cumin, cayenne and salt. Season with black pepper and set aside for about 1 hour to marinate.

Working in batches, blend the marinated vegetable and bread mixture in a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade until puréed. Transfer the purée to a large bowl and continue until it is all puréed. If it is too dry, add a few tablespoons of tomato juice to thin it out to suit your taste.

Strain into another bowl and then stir in the tomato juice. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar, if needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

To make the garnish: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put the bread cubes in a medium bowl and pour olive oil over them. Toss to mix so the bread absorbs the olive oil, then spread the bread cubes out over a sheet pan and bake for about 4 minutes. Rotate the pan, turn the croutons over, and continue baking for another 4 minutes until they are browned and crisp.

Ladle 1-1/2 to 2 cups of soup into each chilled soup bowl. Garnish each with about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the scallion, pepper and cucumber mixture. Top with about 2 tablespoons of croutons and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.