Friday, May 31, 2013

Welcome Summer!

Today is hot-hot-hot! I LOVE IT! Hooray and welcome, Lady Summer!

Today I am making a luscious Gazpacho.

Hello, I'm Luscious Gazpacho.

Oh, I have been craving this for weeks, but it's just not the same unless the world is sweltering outside when you get that first icy spoonful. You know what I mean? Gazpacho is THE soup for hot weather; all the vegetables and fresh herbs are in season and bursting with flavor. Over the years, my recipe has evolved tremendously.  I make a slightly less spicy Gazpacho than most restaurants: feeding a family with different tolerances for heat, anyone can shake a little hot sauce (or raw garlic paste) in, but once it's there, it can't come out!

I also don't top my Gazpacho with Sour Cream. Seriously, I have a pet peeve about this when I see this soup garnished this way in local restaurants, as if it's a Southwestern dish  - even more disappointing, places that do this? their Gazpacho usually seems like a watered down bowl of salsa. Blecch!  Gazpacho is from Andalusia, folks. There's enough culture and history and variations within that wonderous region of origin to keep any cook blissfully exploring for years, without mucking it up and trying to make it into "cowboy food". I do NOT want to see any jalapenos or habineros or chilies anywhere near Gazpacho. Ever.

Gazpacho is a dish that has deep historical roots, back to the ancient Moors and Romans conquering the area we know as Spain. Some versions of Gazpacho are even made with almonds,  melons, and other fruits. And they WORK. If it's a culinary cousin of anything, that would be another hot-weather personal favorite of mine, Panzanella. (If you have Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - she has a great recipe for Panzanella. All of her recipes are fantastic. But back to Gazpacho...) It's odd, but of all the many, many recipes I delight to take in different directions, playing with the ingredients and preparation techniques, flavor profiles and cultural elements, when it comes to Gazpacho, I suddenly get all traditional and conservative. I do part of the soup by hand - no food processor to make the chopping faster. I'm incredibly nit-picky about not letting any damn bell pepper seeds into my soup making it bitter. I  use a blender for a small part of the soup brothy base... it's a wonderful time saver and I don't have a problem with the "frothiness factor" like I would with the mess a mortar and pestle make. The one thing I don't do which is traditional is put stale bread into the mixture.. but I always serve and this soup with generous amounts of crusty breads. There is a true marriage there that should be honored.

So, before I give you the recipe, let me explain the technique, so that the crazy ingredients list will make some sense. I promise, there's a method to my madness. The chunks of vegetables that you eat with your spoon should all be uniform, and it's better when you can get a bite of all of them at once on any spoonful - but that means you need to cut them into very small dice - not fine, not minced, but I go for about 1/4 inch cubes, without getting obsessive. (Oh, quit laughing. Really. I could be much worse.) I then coarse-chop more of the same vegetables to go in the blender to be pureed. My home KitchenAid blender had THE most powerful motor of all of the models I could find, and it wasn't cheap, but it isn't a professional kitchen blender (those run in the $450-$800 range). I'm careful about not overworking my blender, so I chop things up before they go in, and use plenty of liquid to get it all moving. To make the liquid "broth" part of the soup, I do it in two batches in the blender: the first is a puree of all the vegetables, plus olive oil, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. The second is all my fresh herbs, lemon juice,  and the rest of the tomato juice. This way, you get all the favors combined in the broth. The two ingredients that don't get pureed are 1) the garlic - that gets minced down to paste, with kosher salt so that there are no chance of biting into an oversized chunk that the blender missed, and 2) the tomatoes. Since we are using tomato juice as the puree liquid, and it already has all the seeds and skins removed, there's no reason to make more work peeling and seeding tomatoes. One final thing: I like to refrigerate all of the ingredients before starting, so they are cold while I'm working with them.. that way chilling the made soup takes less time.

Liz's Half-Blendered Gazpacho
Makes 8-10 Servings


3 cloves fresh Garlic, pasted with Kosher Salt
1/2 med. Red Onion, fine chopped
1/4 med. Red Onion, rough chopped for blender
1 large Red Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, fine chopped
1 large Red Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, rough chopped for blender
1 1/2 Green Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, fine chopped
1/2 Green Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, rough chopped for blender
1 large Cucumber, peeled, seeded (seeds can go in blender), and fine chopped
1 large Cucumber, peeled, rough chopped for blender
3 large firm Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 64 oz. can Tomato Juice
2 tsp Worcestershire
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 bunch fresh Italian Flat Leafed Parsley, plucked from stems
1 bunch fresh Basil, plucked from stems
1/2 bunch fresh Tarragon, plucked from stems
1 bunch fresh Chives, rough chopped for blender
Juice of 2 fresh lemons
Kosher Salt for garlic paste, and then to taste (about 2 tsp.)
Fresh ground Black Pepper, to taste (about 1/4 tsp.)

First make garlic paste by mincing the garlic as fine as possible, then, using small pinches of Kosher salt, work it with the side of your chef's knife into fine, even paste. Place in the bottom of large bowl. As you chop the rest of the vegetables, divide them, placing the fine chopped ones in the large bowl, and the rough chopped ones loosely in the blender carafe. To the blender carafe, add in the Worcestershire, Vinegar, Olive Oil, salt & pepper to taste, and then just enough tomato juice to cover. Cover with lid and puree until smooth. Pour into large bowl with the fine chopped vegetables. In the same blender carafe, then add the fresh herbs, lemon juice, and the rest of the tomato juice, and puree until smooth but not liquefied. Stir into the large bowl with the rest of the soup. Then stir the soup so that all of the vegetables, garlic paste, and broth get well-combined, and place either on a large bowl of ice, or refrigerate. Serve with large amounts of crusty bread, extra olive oil, and garnish either with shaved ice or ice cubes.

So... how 'bout that Food Porn? Here ya go!

Making fresh Garlic Paste, chop the garlic:

Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop.

No,... smaller!
 Good. Now, paste:
Mush, mush, mush SCRAPE! Mush, mush, mush, SCRAPE!
All pasted, and into the Big Bowl. Looks like more than 3 cloves doesn't it?

Now the rest of them:

LOOK at this gorgeous onion. It's almost too pretty to chop.

Almost. Heh.

Here's an idea of the sizes of the rough cut vs. the fine chop on the onions. Sorry the picture isn't great. Stopping, washing my hands, just to snap pictures between each step drives me crazy when I'm "in the zone" is really hard! (This is why I'm a chef, not a photographer)

The fine cut, in a small teaspoon - I thought this was a good gauge for size.

Ok, on to the cucumber! If you've never seeded a cuke before, here it is. Cucumber seeds aren't bitter like bell pepper seeds, and these were nice, fresh, "well-hydrated" ones, so I just tossed the pulp into the blender. No sense in wasting it if it tastes good.
You have NO idea how hard it is for a totally uncoordinated geek like myself to take a picture with one hand and hold a spoon in a cucumber with another. Seriously. There's a reason they don't let people like me do brain surgery, folks. Tip Jar's on the right. Just sayin'.
(Must not nibble the chopped veggies... must not nibble the chopped veggies...)
Slicing the cucumber into strips, before chopping.

The cucumbers are a lot softer than the onions and peppers, so they barely need to be chopped much at all for the blender:
(Crunch, crunch, crunch).. Ok, so maybe there's two slices less cucumber in the final soup than the recipe says. Shoot me.

Rubies, Emeralds, Jade, Amethysts and Pearls surrounded by Silver... treasures beyond measure in my kitchen.

And now, the soup practically makes itself. Puree #1: the veggies in the blender, before adding the Worcestershire, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and tomato juice... it's only about half the carafe, but it makes such a thicker, richer broth with the vegetables in, really helps the flavors marry.
Just enough to get it moving... save more juice for the herbs, they make the machine work harder.
Puree done! Notice the nice, bright color -- that's the cucumbers doing their job, and why I go heavy on the red peppers, but use barely any green peppers. When the fresh herbs get pureed, the result is very dark, so this helps the soup not look like swamp water.

Empty this out into the big bowl of fine chopped vegetables, give it a good stir, especially to get that garlic paste off the bottom. The soup already tastes good now, but don't adjust the salt just yet. Put your herbs into the same blender, with the fresh lemon juice and more tomato juice - you don't need to rinse out the carafe before doing Puree #2, it's all going to the same place.

Puree and add this all into the big bowl. Really stir it up well. NOW taste it, and you'll be glad that you used cold vegetables to make this - you get a better inkling of what it's going to be once it's really well chilled. Adjust the salt, but not too much, the flavors will come together even better after a day.

What? Oh, you were wondering about that "ice cube" eh? No big secret - throw a couple sprigs of leftover tarragon and some strips of lemon zest into a muffin tin, fill with water, freeze. If I was going to entertain, I'd take time to boil the water first to get crystal clear ice, I'd maybe add lemon juice and parsley leaves as well. A big pile of shaved ice or granita works well, too.

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