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.
If you draw a triangle on a map of Andalucía with Seville at one corner and Granada at another, Córdoba is at its apex. As my final stop, this city truly felt like a culmination of my week in Andalucía.
That’s the Mezquita, which I have posted about before. Here’s a look inside.
The Mezquita is a cathedral built inside a mosque built on top of a church. Its bell tower encompasses the mosque’s minaret.
Orange trees are ubiquitous throughout Andalucía. (There are 25,000 trees in Seville alone.) This is in the Courtyard of the Orange Trees, which is part of the Mezquita.
Not far from the Mezquita is the Jewish Quarter.
This small synagogue is no longer used for worship, but it is open to the public. Its walls are done in the Mudéjar style. That’s the women’s gallery up above.
Córdoba’s Jewish Quarter is filled with narrow streets like this one. I’ve written a lot about the Moorish influence on Spain, but it should also be noted that Spain’s Jewish community used to be one of the largest in Western Europe.
My first day in Córdoba was wet and dreary, but the next day dawned cold and clear with spectacular blue skies, unlike any I’d yet seen in Andalucía.
It was the perfect finish to my 48 hours in Córdoba, and to my exploration of Andalucía.
Last Sunday, I promised you a photo of the nave of Córdoba’s Mezquita. Here it is, for the Fifth Sunday of Lent.
For the Fourth Sunday of Lent, I’m posting a photo of the interior of the Mezquita de Córdoba. The Mezquita is a cathedral built inside a mosque built on top of a church. Given that back-and-forth heritage, it’s often called the Mezquita–catedral de Córdoba (the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba).
The original church, the Basilica of Saint Vincent, was built by the Visigoths in the sixth century. When the Moors arrived in Córdoba in the late eighth century, they built a mosque on top of that basilica. The main prayer hall of the Mezquita (shown in this photo) is filled with an impressive forest of columns supporting 400 red-and-white double arches. Even today, it is one of the largest mosques in the world.
After the Reconquista (reconquest) of Córdoba in 1236 by the northern Christian kingdoms, the mosque was reconsecrated as a Christian church. Eventually, the minaret was turned into a bell tower and a Renaissance cathedral nave was built in the middle of the mosque. Stay tuned ― next Sunday I’ll post a photo of that nave.