- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 9, 2005

I’ve encountered variations on gazpacho everywhere I’ve looked this summer. In Paris, I ordered watermelon, as well as cantaloupe, gazpacho from restaurant menus. I spotted a tempting white gazpacho made with mostly white vegetables in a picnic cookbook and found an avocado-and-tomato gazpacho in another volume.

Although I am intrigued with these novel and interesting variations, I confess that the best gazpacho I sampled all summer was based on the Spanish original prepared by a neighbor from Spain.

During an unrelenting heat wave, I mentioned to my friend that I was planning to make gazpacho for supper. Her eyes lit up as she explained that Andalusian gazpacho was one of her specialties. What if we cooked the night’s meal together, she asked, so that my husband and I could try her special version? I accepted her tempting offer, and a few hours later, we were in my kitchen.

The delectable soup we assembled was far better than other gazpachos I have made over many years of cooking. The difference was in the details.

For seasoning, we used garlic, wine vinegar and olive oil. In place of plain table salt, we opted for sea salt. After pureeing these ingredients in a food processor, we transferred the soup to a large bowl and stirred in crushed ice before storing it in the fridge until icy cold. At serving time, you simply ladle the soup into bowls and pass a tray of the embellishments. A mixed-greens salad and a platter of cheeses, especially Spanish cheeses, would be good accompaniments.

Best-ever gazpacho

2 pounds tomatoes

1 large (about 8 ounces) red bell pepper

1 large (about 8 ounces) green bell pepper

1 cucumber

1 day-old French baguette

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for sauteing bread cubes

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons sea salt, plus more if needed

8 ice cubes, crushed

1 bunch scallions

2 hard-cooked eggs

Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. With a sharp knife, make an X on the bottom of each tomato and add to the pan for 15 to 20 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon. With a sharp knife, peel skin from tomatoes and discard. Stem tomatoes, then quarter, lengthwise, and scrape out and discard seeds and membranes. Transfer tomatoes to a large bowl.

Stem the red and green bell peppers, then quarter lengthwise and cut out and discard seeds and membranes. Chop peppers and reserve 1/4 cup of each for garnish. Add remaining peppers to bowl with tomatoes.

With a vegetable peeler, remove alternating lengthwise strips of skin from cucumber. Quarter cucumber lengthwise but don’t remove seeds. Chop cucumber and reserve ½ cup for garnish. Add the rest to bowl of vegetables.

Cut baguette into ½-inch cubes to yield 3 cups. Add half to the bowl of vegetables and reserve the other half for garnish.

Add garlic to bowl of vegetables. Process half of the vegetable mixture in a food processor or blender for several seconds, then transfer to a large bowl. Puree the other half and add to the bowl. Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil and the vinegar and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Add crushed ice. Taste and add more salt, if needed. Cover and refrigerate until icy cold, at least an hour, up to 1 day.

For garnishes, have ready three small bowls. Mix reserved bell peppers and cucumber together and place in one bowl.

Cut off roots of scallions and all but 1 inch of green stems, then chop. Chop hard-cooked eggs and combine with scallions. Place in another bowl.

Pour enough olive oil into a medium skillet to cover the bottom generously. Place pan over medium high heat. When hot, add reserved bread cubes and cook, stirring, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and cool, then place in a bowl. Leave uncovered at room temperature for up to 4 hours.

Serve soup in 4 large bowls or 6 small ones. Arrange garnishes on a tray and pass. Sprinkle each serving with some of the garnishes. Makes 4 servings as a main course or 6 as a first course.


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