In my tour through Spain these past almost eleven (!!) months, I haven’t been talking about the food. That’s been rather intentional — there were so many memorable meals I could have written about that it would have taken me off on another tangent altogether.
Those meals were so memorable that I made sure to pick up a couple of cookbooks to take home with me. One is filled with recipes of typical Spanish dishes and the other contains only tapas recipes. (Both are published in English — let’s just make that perfectly clear!) But when it came down to deciding which recipe, of all the Spanish dishes I like to re-create in my own kitchen, to write about here — well, that was a near impossible choice.
In the end, it was last summer’s heat dome that decided it for me. Gazpacho is a life-saver when the temperature hovers near 40ºC and as soon as I saw what was headed our way back in June, I whipped up a batch to sustain me through that crazy week.
Confession: the first time I was served gazpacho I really didn’t see what the big deal was. I was at a small dinner party here in Canada, and the host came out with a large bowl of finely chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers all mixed together. Gazpacho, she called it. And so, many years later when my sister and I were enjoying a round of tapas on our first night in Córdoba, I was taken aback when the gazpacho arrived.
“This is gazpacho?” I said to my sister, pointing to my glass. It was beyond delicious and a world apart from the cold, sad mixture of vegetables I’d been led to believe was gazpacho. But, in case you are confused, gazpacho is not merely a thick version of V8 juice. It’s so much more than that.
My sister laments that she can no longer buy gazpacho by the carton the way she could when she lived in Spain. She now satisfies her craving with this recipe, which she claims is the closest to the gazpacho she had in Spain. And since we were always served gazpacho in a glass in Spain, I serve it that way here in Canada. Yes, it’s soup, but it’s perfectly quaffable.
And it’s the best meal to have when you’re in the middle of a heat dome.
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, cored and roughly chopped
1 small red onion, minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 small serrano chili, seeded and minced
several slices day-old baguette
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar*
1. Place in a large bowl two-thirds of the tomatoes and half of the cucumber, bell pepper, and onion. Add the garlic, chili, and 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt. Combine well and set aside.
2. Toss with 1/2 teaspoon of salt the remaining tomatoes, cucumber, pepper, and onion, and place in a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl. Set aside for one hour, then transfer to the bowl with the rest of the vegetables.
3. Add the baguette slices to the liquid drained from the vegetables. Soak for one minute, then add the bread and any remaining liquid to the vegetables. Toss well to combine.
4. Transfer half of the mixture to a blender and process several minutes until completely smooth. With the blender running, slowly add 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Strain soup through a fine mesh strainer into a large bowl, then repeat with the remaining mixture and olive oil.**
5. Stir in the sherry vinegar and season to taste. Transfer to a pitcher, cover, and refrigerate overnight before serving.***
*Use the best sherry vinegar you can find. I’ve learned that a poor-quality vinegar will make your gazpacho pretty much undrinkable.
**Some recipes call for setting aside some of the chopped vegetables to use as a garnish if you like. I don’t like, so never do.
***The flavours need time to blend, so don’t skimp on the waiting time. Several hours is the minimum.
Who of us knew walking would become a thing when this pandemic first hit? Not me. Such a simple act, which has been my balm in Gilead these past nineteen months.
And yet, who of us by this time are not bored to tears with their neighbourhood, having explored every corner of it?
Even me — and I live next door to one of Canada’s most spectacular urban parks.
And so, on this Thanksgiving I am grateful that the stars have aligned and I have a (temporary) change of scenery. I’m in Central Alberta for some weeks, which at the moment is stunning in all its fall glory. There are lots of trails and walks to discover, too. Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon walking around Elizabeth Lake, in the centre of Lacombe.
Here’s some of what I saw.