It rained on the morning I started to write this article and the leaden skies and lower temperature made it look as if autumn were back. I considered writing about something less summery. But before I could give it much thought, lead turned to sapphire, the sun came out and we were into summer again. So gazpacho stayed on the menu.
However, nowadays it’s not always a homemade gazpacho. The food conglomerates long ago started to woo busy housewives with soups galore in packets, cans and jars and in later years a wide range of stocks in briks. About 20 years go they had a go at doing cold soups and started off with Spain’s famous gazpacho andaluz.
I considered writing about these commercial gazpachos but that idea literally went down the drain after I tried three of them. The first one came in small cans and had the advantage of being reasonably priced. The disadvantage was its very thin texture — and an extremely aggressive vinegar taste. It went down the sink after two sips.
The other two had better textures but the taste of vinegar was overwhelming. They also lacked the all-important taste of fresh vegetables. So I didn’t bother writing about commercial gazpachos — they simply weren’t good enough.
About 15 years later I tasted a supermarket’s own make gazpacho at a friend’s home and found there had been a big improvement. The excessive and abusive use of strong vinegar had been solved and it was passable. But I found it rather expensive.
I told my friend there was no need to spend so much on a commercial gazpacho because in the meantime most people had blenders — and you can do a much better gazpacho than the supermarket’s own make and at a fraction of the cost.
The good thing about your own blender gazpacho is that you’re using fresh veggies and getting the genuine gazpacho taste — and it’s all done so easily and at such a low cost. You can do a perfectly good gazpacho without thinking too much about it.
All you have to do is put into the blender bowl a roughly chopped small onion, a few peeled tomatoes, peeled cucumber, chopped green peppers, chopped garlic, breadcrumbs previously soaked in water and squeezed dry, some virgen extra olive oil and a tiny amount of vinegar.
You then add a little water and blitz at the highest speed until everything is well blended. Add salt to taste and enough extra water to get your preferred consistency. In about 10 minutes from start to finish you have a lovely gazpacho you can transfer to a jug and keep in the fridge. It could hardly be easier or quicker.
I have given no measurements for the above ingredients because different amounts produce quite distinct results. The taste of a gazpacho depends on the maker’s palate and preferences but there are certain guidelines that should be followed.
Too much onion is a mistake, so much so that I often omit it. Those who like the taste of cucumber should add more and those with a preference for the green pepper flavour should chop up the appropriate amount.
Some cooks go for a thick texture, so they use more bread. The bread I prefer for gazpacho and most stuffings is Majorcan pan moreno. After being soaked in water and squeezed dry it has a superb loose crumb that is ideal for thickening sauces and binding stuffings.
Before adding the garlic to the blender, I prefer to pound it to a paste in a mortar with the help of a pinch of salt. You should always peel the tomatoes because even minuscule bits of skin get in the way.
You can use any kind of green peppers but the light green Majorcan variety is best because it has a good flavour and thin skins.
In order to make a successful gazpacho, the most important single piece of advice I can give you is: go easy on the vinegar. It is absolutely essential to use smooth high quality wine or sherry vinegar. Cider vinegar is also a sound choice because it is always less aggressive.
But even when using a mild vinegar, add it sparingly. A gazpacho should have a tangy taste but never an overpowering presence of vinegar. The vast majority of cooks, pros as well as amateurs, are inclined to use too much vinegar.
Gazpacho had its origins in the fields of Andalusia hundreds of years ago. For farmworkers it was sustenance rather than just refreshment.
Nowadays, it is mainly a starter for a summer meal although many Spaniards keep a big jug in the fridge for use as a cooler instead of a cold soft drink.
But you can’t do that if you’re watching your weight. Although gazpacho is full of vegetables, it also contains a good amount of olive oil and the calories that come with it. If it weren’t for those calories, gazpacho wouldn’t have sustained an Andalusian farmer during his long working day. You can, of course, make gazpacho without olive oil, but it wouldn’t be an authentic one. When we’re doing Spanish regional dishes we should never settle for second best.
A gazpacho made as above can be served in deep plates, bowls, glasses or cups. In some up-market restaurants, their tasting menu starts with two or three tiny tapas, one of which can be gazpacho (or some other soup) served in a single shot glass. It’s an elegant way of serving gazpacho but I always feel I’d have preferred it in a tumbler — filled to the rim, of course.
The consistency of gazpacho made as above is that favoured by most Spaniards I know. But some of them like to have something to chew on, so before serving the soup they add finely chopped onion, green pepper, tomato, cucumber, and diced bread. Sometimes the bread is toasted but it can also be deep-fried for extra crunchiness.
Given its origins in the fields of Andalusia, gazpacho is strictly rustic fare. But when cooks in top hotels and restaurants started to serve it as a summer starter, they looked for a way to give the farmer’s soup a new up-market image.
They kept the traditional tomato base, but decided to serve the chopped vegetables separately. The smooth gazpacho was served from a tureen and diced vegetables and the deep-fried croutons were presented in small attractive bowls. Diners could help themselves to the veggies and croutons — or leave them out if they were counting the calories.
I think a simple gazpacho is one of the world’s great dishes and I never tire of it. Although I wouldn’t ever mess about with it at home, some up-market cooks have interesting variations. Koldo Royo used to do one that contained watermelon and it was delicious, with the taste of the tomatoes and the watermelon coming through clearly. And, of course, Koldo was always spot on with the amount of vinegar he used.