Soup and hot summer weather never seemed like a good combo to me—until I met gazpacho, of course. Throw in the sudden onslaught of tomatoes from a typical summer garden and it almost becomes an imperative.
Gazpacho actually appears in texts dating back to Greece and Rome. Claims for the origin of the word itself vary, but all theories seem to indicate a reference to “pieces,” as in chunks of bread.
“Gazpacho was originally any gruel or soup with old bread, olive oil, and sour wine,” says María Llamas, owner and manager of the distinguished Alambique cooking school in Madrid, Spain. “Roman legions used to march on it. At the time it had no tomatoes, probably a few herbs to flavor. It really became super popular when tomatoes were incorporated.”
As we’ve seen in other dishes, the main ingredients of the modern dish are recent arrivals to Europe, historically speaking. Tomatoes and green peppers are born of the New World, and as Spain conquered and colonized its way into the Americas, they brought foods—tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, maize, cacao, avocados, many of your favorite nuts and berries—and these became centerpieces of various cuisines. (Italy without tomatoes? Fuggedaboutit.)
The Spanish and Portuguese, and particularly the Andalusians, made tomato-based gazpacho a standard, though many variations still exist. “More recently some people also add cherries, strawberries, or watermelon to intensify the sweetness and freshness,” says Llamas.
But the rule of thumb here—or anywhere in the kitchen, really—is that the quality of the ingredients determines how awesome your food tastes, particularly in simple recipes where anything a bit off will stand out. Spring for the best extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar; use fresh roma tomatoes that are perfectly ripe and juicy.
Recipes may recommend peeling the tomatoes. To do so, cut a superficial X in the skin and place them in boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds. Remove from the water and place in an ice bath and those skins can easily be slid off. Some recipes also call for the tomatoes to be halved and cored, removing all the seeds, before adding them to the blender.
RECIPE: Traditional Gazpacho
Cousins of Gazpacho
This cold soup of southern Spain is the richer, creamier version of gazpacho. The recipe doesn’t call for water or milk, so you’re getting straight-up tomato and garlic, thickened with the juices and stale bread with olive oil and vinegar, and no extra vegetables. Salmorejo then is better suited for a bowl, unlike the drinking glasses that work for gazpacho. For garnish, top with chopped-up Serrano ham and hard-boiled eggs.
One step beyond salmorejo, this gazpacho variant originates in a town in Málaga and is the thickest of the bunch. Served as a tapa, it calls for the same ingredients but goes heavier on the bread, until it thickens up enough to hold its shape a bit above the spoonful. Garnishes may include tuna and oil, or the ham and egg combo that graces salmorejo.
One variation, especially useful if you don’t have (or don’t want) tomatoes, is ajo blanco, sometimes called white gazpacho. Almonds and garlic define it. One must first peel the papery skin off the almonds, something a good blanching followed by a chilled bath makes possible.
RECIPE: Ajo Blanco
Kevin Revolinski is an avid traveler, craft beer enthusiast, and home-cooking fan. He is the author of 15 books, including “The Yogurt Man Cometh: Tales of an American Teacher in Turkey” and his new collection of short stories, “Stealing Away.” He’s based in Madison, Wis., and his website is TheMadTraveler.com