There were some optimistic souls who assumed we were due for a mild summer to make up for the horrific winter we had, followed by a spring with a terminal identity crisis, which it tried to resolve by experimenting with 40s and rainy and 80s and humid in 72-hour rotations for the past two months. Said well-meaning souls do not have my hard-earned and deep-seated cynicism, which is why they might have been disappointed when the weather gods decided Memorial Day weekend was as good as any time to go from zero to July, and to hell with June.
Some might say that my reality-based view of the universe makes me less shiny-happy-whatever, but I say there is a certain grim satisfaction to be derived from being right, to say nothing of being better prepared when the inevitable happens. When the 90s-and-humid hit, I already had a pitcher of cold-brewed coffee ready in the fridge, and I was also raring to make my favorite heat-busting celebration of summer, even if it had to be made with supermarket tomatoes because it isn’t actually July and the Jersey tomatoes are still weeks away.
Gazpacho, like flamenco music, is one of those things I fell so hard in love with at first exposure that I have to attribute it to genetic memory. After all, some part of my cross-Mediterranean mix does come from Andalusia, the ancestral home of both. I’m still trying to find the time and discipline to learn guitar, but regularly making gazpacho during the sauna season honors my forebearers with almost no time or effort, and consistently helps me keep my cool.
Gazpacho is infinitely forgiving and you can vary the amounts and ingredients according to what you have and like. For example, this version comes from Jose Andres, my favorite Spanish chef and the source of the best flan ever. His (actually his Andalusian wife’s) recipe uses half a green pepper rather than one whole red one, but I almost never buy green anymore since red is so much sweeter and more versatile, so I used that. Of course, the better tomatoes you use the more deeply flavorful this will be. When the heirlooms hit the farmers markets, go nuts with any variety you can find.
(Adapted from Jose Andres’ Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America)
Serves 4, if I feel especially self-sacrificing
2 pounds ripe tomatoes (around 5-6 medium ones)
1 large cucumber, peeled
1 small red pepper
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish
2 teaspoons sea salt
Core the tomatoes, chop roughly into eighths, and place in a blender. Roughly chop the cucumber and pepper and add to the carafe on top of the tomatoes. Add the garlic, vinegar and water, and blend until the mixture is uniform and no visible chunks of vegetable remain. Taste and add more vinegar to balance the tomatoes and pepper if they’re especially sweet.
Add the oil and salt and blend again briefly. Don’t blend too long or the gazpacho will start to heat up and you’ll lose the fruitiness of the olive oil. Chill in the carafe until very cold, at least 30 minutes.
Serve in glasses, drizzled with a tiny bit more olive oil and vinegar. If you like, you can also garnish with cherry tomatoes and additional diced cucumber.
The recipe calls for straining the gazpacho after the initial blending and before the refrigeration step, but I never bother because unless I’m paying big bucks for it at Jaleo, when perfection is to be expected, I prefer gazpacho to be a little rustic. You can strain if you like, but the extra fiber is good for you, and shouldn’t life have a little texture?