Wednesday, August 26, 2009

To-may-to, To-mah-to: Gazpacho Soup

If you’re in a debate over how to pronounce the word tomato, I have a simple solution for you: Call the whole thing off and give all of your tomatoes to me!

It’s safe to say I love tomatoes, but only good ones. I rarely even buy them in the supermarket anymore, preferring to wait out the grainy, bullet-proof, tomato-like fruit season, long as it is, for mid to late summer when I can sink my teeth into really great, vine-ripened, voluptuous darlings, especially the endless variety of heirlooms, that were grown only a few miles away. (It’s even better when I can visit someone’s garden and eat them in while still standing among the vines.)

This year, however, has been a special test of my patience. We have had a cool summer in southeastern Minnesota (and much of the rest of the upper Midwest). Tomatoes need the hot summer sun to ripen and turn red, orange, or gold, and the local ones were significantly delayed. Luckily, I had plenty of other great vegetables to keep me company until the object of my secret love affair could arrive. (Okay, so it’s not a secret anymore.)

The first thing I do when I get a great tomato, is make a sandwich. I’ve been eating these since I was a kid. Though I used to have them on toasted store-bought white bread and just a bit of Miracle Whip, I’ve since graduated to homemade breads, like this one, real mayonnaise (sometimes even homemade!), and often a few sprinkles of thinly sliced basil leaves or even a bit of pesto mixed with the mayo. This is the best do-nothing food in the world, and I can’t think of anything that I’ve been eating or fixing for myself for so long. (Adding bacon and lettuce is just great as long as you have the patience to delay your tomato satisfaction while cooking the bacon.)

The second thing I do when the tomatoes come in is make gazpacho soup, especially since bell peppers, chile peppers, cucumbers and fresh onions are in season at the same time.

Now let me make myself clear to all you purists and aficionados of Spanish cuisine. What I make may not really be gazpacho. I don’t put bread in mine, and I realize that no self-respecting tapas bar would serve such a thing, but I’m okay with that. I like it to be about the vegetables. I also do not strain out the pulpy bits. I don’t have a problem with chewing my cold soups (I also leave some of the vegetables in chunks rather than pureed), and it seems such a waste to throw out all that dietary fiber. (Really, what’s the point of eating your vegetables if you have to chase them with bran muffins or a dose of Metamucil?)

Much like when I make cold cucumber soup (there are striking similarities between these recipes), I don’t peel the cukes when they are organic or I know the skin has been left alone. I do remove the large seeds, though. I also remove most of the seeds from the tomatoes, but I don’t get too meticulous about that.

I used a Hungarian Hot Wax pepper in my soup, but you can use whatever kind of chile pepper you like, or leave it out if you don’t care for the extra spice. The Hungarians just happened to be on the table next to the tomatoes and peppers when I started making the gazpacho, so I went with convenience. Besides, that added another vegetable from the CSA box. This meant that only the garlic, olive oil, and lime were not grown nearby. Now if only they could grow olives and limes in Minnesota…

Since I purchased a ten-pound box of heirloom tomatoes in addition to those that come with our regular weekly delivery, I have a lot of tomatoes to eat. Gluttony and greed may be deadly sins, but I think they get cancelled out when the object is as healthy and holy as fresh, ripe tomatoes. I wonder what the third thing I make with tomatoes should be...

GazpachoThis whole recipe doesn’t quite fit in a standard food processor bowl, so it is best to puree it in batches. (I tend to remember this only after making a big mess.)
1 pound cucumbers, seeded (peeled if desired)
1 small bell pepper (any color will do)
¾ cup chopped red onion
2 lbs ripe tomatoes
1 chile pepper of your choice, seeded
3 Tbs fresh lime juice
3 Tbs extravirgin olive oil
1 tsp coarse Kosher salt or to taste
2 large cloves garlic

1. Finely chop half of 1 cucumber, half of the pepper, and ¼ cup of the red onion. Place in a large bowl.

2. Coarsely chop the remaining cucumbers, pepper and onion. Coarsely chop and remove the seeds from the tomatoes. Place the chopped cucumbers, peppers, onions, tomatoes and the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Process in batches until smooth.

3. Pour into the bowl with the chopped vegetables. Cover and chill as long as you can, at least 2 hours. It should be as cold as possible. Before serving, stir well and taste the soup for salt, adding more if necessary. You can also garnish each serving with diced examples of what is in the soup.
Makes about 5-6 servings.

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