Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cool As A Cucumber

"Do I look like a frolicker?!" ~ Mrs. Patmore to Mr. Carson when she is accused of frolicking with Ethel
It's 96°F and humid and I have decided that the stove is OFF tonight (even if the cook isn't) and as luck would have it, the English Cucumbers just happened to go on sale this week. There's nothing like cucumbers to really keep you cool when it's hot outside. What better time to put on my pseudo-British accent and pretend I'm Mrs. Patmore trying to feed people at un-air-conditioned Downton Abbey? Here we all are, in the sweltering heat, waiting for the Royal Baby to be born, celebrating that the Queen of England signed marriage equality into law earlier this week, and these particular English Cucumbers happened to come from a hothouse in Canada (hey, it's still part of the Commonwealth). Even the title of this post, the expression, "cool as a cucumber" comes from a very amusing piece written by the English poet, John Gay, in 1732.

English cucumbers rock. And in this particular recipe, they really should be used. The regular cucumbers you see in the grocery store each week have a tougher skin and are slightly more bitter and crunchy, while the English cucumbers are going to give a more silky texture in the final soup and it will taste better. Also, as a personal note, I've been to England and the authentic cucumber sandwiches served at Afternoon Tea? Oh yeah, totally different with English cucumbers. Accept no substitute. (Now if only we could get real clotted cream around here my life would be complete.)

So what could top a nice cold Cucumber Gazpacho? One that has the very, very last of my precious Italian olive oil drizzled as the final touch when we eat it. I can't get this in the States, I have to beg bottles of it off of relatives who go over for vacation. Sigh. This is the kind of olive oil that is so delicious, you never cook with it... you only have it on it's own, or maybe with a little bread, to fully appreciate the taste. My God, the way it tasted when I first cracked open that seal... instant "sore throat" from a single spoonful. It was AMAZING. Alas, superb olive oil doesn't age like fine wine... the best it will ever be is when it's running straight from the olive press. It has a year of "life" to it at most, and should be consumed by the expiration date - which is next month. You could say, I rationed out our consumption perfectly this past year, but it deserves a respectful final meal - bread, cucumber gazpacho, and a hot, hot summer day when these are the Main Meal, and proper  attention and homage can be fully paid.

So long, Old Pal.
When I win the lottery, I'm going to have whole cases of this stuff flown over every month. 

What? You have a problem with Italian Olive Oil being used with English Cucumbers in a Spanish soup? Not Anglophile enough for you? That gives me all the excuse I need for THIS clip, hehehe.

Not exactly a Merchant Ivory film, was it? Still one of my absolute favorite movies ever.

My English Cucumber Gazpacho also has plenty of very, very good quality olive oil in the soup - along with a LOT of white wine vinegar and fresh lemon. I go easy on the raw garlic in this: only one clove. It's a big clove, but just one. You can always add another in - but it gets stronger and better, if you let the soup sit for a full day before eating it, so start with one and then adjust to your own taste.

English Cucumber Gazpacho
Makes about 2 Quarts

9 English cucumbers, divided (8 peeled & chopped for soup, 1 diced or thin-sliced for garnish)
1 1/2 cup very good Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup water (I use the chilled water from our Brita pitcher in the fridge)
1-2 cloves Garlic, pasted with Kosher Salt
1 cup White Wine vinegar
Juice of 3 lemons
3 tsp Kosher Salt
½-1 tsp (a very generous grinding) Black Pepper

Optional: ¼ Cup superb quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle for garnish

Peel 8 of the cucumbers and rough chop. In small batches puree in the blender with the oil, water, lemon juice, garlic paste, salt & pepper and pour into a large metal bowl set over another bowl of ice. The way I do it is put most of the liquid ingredients in the first and second batches, puree them well, and then use that soup base for the rest of the cucumbers… it takes about 4 batches to do all 8 cucumbers in my blender. And, as I’ve said before, I have a very powerful-motored blender for this purpose, I don’t think it would turn out as smooth in a food processor. Chill the soup thoroughly, for at least 2 hours in the fridge, and also chill the bowls you will serve it in - don't put 32-degree soup into 75-degree bowls straight from your kitchen cabinet. You can then garnish with the 9th cucumber, or drizzle olive oil, or even croutons would be nice. Bread and gazpacho and olive oil always work well. 

I am serving this with a "heavy" salad made from cooked beets, wild rice, sliced almonds, and chevre, and also with plenty of Italian bread.

Now, there's really not much to the method, so there wasn't much to photograph. But on a hot day, who wants to work any harder than they have to?

Step 1 - Blenderize it

Step 2 - Nest the bowl in a bigger bowl full of ice, then put them in the fridge for at minimum 2 hours, better yet overnight.

Now if you have it, and like it, I'd say instead of wine or beer with this, stick with the English theme and drink hard cider with this... Strongbow is my personal favorite, and is widely available in the states. If you haven't tried it yet... You're welcome! Otherwise, meh... Iced Earl Grey is pretty fine on a hot day and wouldn't be amiss.

Stay Cool, everyone!

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