Thursday, July 27th, 2006

Gonzo for Gazpacho

There are some moments when I almost believe that the New York Times Dining & Wine section reads my mind. And then I take a step back and realize, oh, ...

There are some moments when I almost believe that the New York Times Dining & Wine section reads my mind. And then I take a step back and realize, oh, it’s summer, so that’s why I was thinking of gazpacho, and that’s why the New York Times was, too. Still, before the article had even popped up, which compared two (admittedly unauthentic) recipes of the cold, crisp vegetable slurry, I had already consulted my food gods on the subject: Emeril, Alton, Mario, Flay, and others. After a simple “gazpacho” search at the Food Network’s website, I find that many of the recipes appear to be similar, but there’s far too many of them to look through completely.

One of the tricks I use to find the most generic recipe of its kind is to look at Rachael or Sara’s. If I’m not into taking the road most traveled (or once I have the basic concept down), I’ll move on to what’s most likely going to be variations á la seasonal/featured ingredients from the other chefs previously mentioned. (Paula Deen, I’m sorry, but I almost never look at your recipes even though they’re always there. I feel that you try way too hard to not speak to me as an audience.)

This time I find that Sara describes blending peeled fresh tomatoes (tedious!) with the usual suspects, cucumber, green pepper, olive oil and red wine vinegar with some crumbs of day-old hardened bread for texture. This is more or less the idea that New York Times goes with in their article. The soup must have originally been a peasant type of dish for its use of leftover bread. While all fingers point to the recipe being fundamentally cold (among other misconceptions, such as the presence of tomato as a necessity), the Wikipedia encyclopedia concludes that the stale bread is the connecting thread between all gazpachos, excerpted here:

“A completely different approach for this recipe is gazpacho manchego. As the name implies it seems to have originating from the La Mancha region in Spain, but it is also popular in other areas in the center and southwest of the country. Instead of a cold soup, it is a warm stew. The main ingredients are meat (rabbit in many cases) and bread (a special kind of flat bread), and may also include mushrooms. Therefore, bread is the ingredient that really identifies a gazpacho.”

Funny, because if I were to make my own gazpacho at home the bread is probably the first thing I’d leave out. I also prefer retaining a more chunky chop of the vegetables, somewhere in between the liquid soup that authentic recipes call for and the near-salsa that I’ve had in American restaurants. Almost every variation I’ve ever eaten of the soup had very faint, if any, traces of bread crumbs in it, and tended to highlight bright summer fruit and vegetables. Watermelon gazpacho, for instance, is one of my favorites. I imagine that using peach or perhaps crisp white peach to complement the traditional blend of vegetables would also be a bright spin on the already spun-beyond-recognition summer dish. To complement the mild fruity tang of the central ingredient, the following recipe is paired with the slightly sweet, petite pearl onion.

Pear and Pearl Onion Gazpacho

2 cups small frozen pearl onions, thawed and blanched
2 medium, ripe, but slightly firm Bartlett or Anjou pears, chopped to ½ inch dice
5 ripe tomatoes, peeled if you have the time, otherwise coarsely chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 clove garlic, minced
1 scallion shoot, chopped
1 cup tomato juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 ½ tbsn red wine vinegar
1 tsp orange zest, plus some curled shavings for garnish
Salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Toss the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, garlic, scallion, juice, oil, vinegar and zest into the blender and blend on lowest setting for about 3 minutes. Stir in the onions and pears and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with orange zest and fresh parsley (optional).

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