When I arrived in Madrid for my Semester Abroad in late August of 2004, it was sizzlin' hot. I mean, fry an egg on the sidewalk hot. After hours of groggy, confused sleep on my international flight, I stepped out onto the blistering pavement of the Arrivals section at the hazy airport to meet my host mother, Maria Elena. She whisked my roommate and I off into the sprawling urban jungle of Madrid in the tiniest car I'd ever seen, all the while speaking to us in rapid-fire Spanish. We just smiled and nodded, sure that we would never, ever understand anything she said. We whirled through space and time, ending up in a beautiful residential neighborhood near Retiro Park. Now, don't judge, but I'm from Nashville where most people I knew lived in houses with at least a little bit of yard. I was not prepared for the tiny, apartment where I would be spending the next few months. Nor was I prepared for the lack of A/C! Maria Elena escorted us to our tiny quarters and threw open the window to let in some (hot) air. Home sweet home!
Above is the view from our window. We overlooked some kind of recreation facility, and sometimes my afternoon siesta was disturbed the the shouts of some bratty children at this cool looking pool. Jealous, much?
Lucky for me, Maria Elena was not of the ilk of host mothers who timed our showers, or forbade us entry to the kitchen. She was friendly and cute and fun- the smallest, blondest Spaniard I'd met to date, who loved to Flamenco dance and was constantly dieting. One of our first meals prepared by this gracious hostess was Gazpacho. First of all, it was wayyy to hot to fire up the deep fryer (Which she had! There is an amazing amount of fried food eaten in Spain!) and second of all, Gazpacho is "más sano", or healthy. At least three times a week (or more) we would sup upon the cool, refreshing liquid food, always accompanied by bread with salt and olive oil and a simple salad. Maria Elena's version was very simple: tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, olive oil (that her friend in Andalucia sent her by the barrel-full) and salt, whirred to liquid perfection in her crazy efficient blender. I think sometimes she added bread to give it more texture. Unlike the Gazpachos back home, there were no chunks, just a silky smooth concoction. I could eat it every day, forever, pretty much.
So, now that we're in the dog days of August here in exotic Norther Virginia, the tomatoes are plentiful and juicy. It's time for some gazpacho. So yesterday, as I perused the market in search of the right 'maters, I came upon a huge pile of fat, ripe yellow heirlooms, which may have been Lemon Boys (there was no sign). Bam. Fate had determined that my gazpacho would be a beautiful yellow variety. I decided to stay true to the simple nature of Maria Elena's Gazpacho, more or less, with the addition of some vinegar. This is also a traditional ingredient in Spanish Gazpacho, and I'm not sure why Maria Elena never used it. Anyway, I would fly back to Spain right now for a bowl of her version if I could. Hopefully you will enjoy my version, below!
- 3 lbs yellow tomatoes
- 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
- 1 seedless cucumber, peeled and chopped (reserve a little bit for garnish)
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 4 tbsp sherry vinegar (sherry is typical, but I used Banyuls)
- 1 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
- Optional garnish: crumbled pancetta or bacon, slice of fresh mozzarella
First, bring a pot of water to boil. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 30 seconds or so, to loosen their skins. Cool them in some ice water, then slip off their skins with your fingers (this should be really easy, if it's hard they might need a bit more time in the water). Core and then coarsely chop the tomatoes, making sure to reserve any juice.
Peel the cucumber and reserve enough for a few slices, for garnish. Coarsley chop the rest of the cucumber.
Throw all the tomatoes, cucumber, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt into the blender and set to "LIQUIFY"!!! Make sure you yell that when you hit the button, too. Taste it. Add more salt, garlic, vinegar, whatever, until it tastes just the way you like it. I like to be able to discern the vinegar a bit, without a whole lot of salt and with a little garlicky bite. It's hard to mess this up, guys.
At this point, some people would strain the soup, but the tomatoes I used were meaty and juicy, with few seeds so I didn't find it necessary. If your soup is too thick, add some ice water. Chill until ice cold!
When cold, ladle into bowls and add garnish, if you like. For the garnish, I decided to add a little American twist: bacon. I crumbled a bit of bacon over a slice of cucumber and a slice of mozzerella and added it to the soup... it sank to the bottom immediately. Instead, I recommend crumbling a bit of the bacon in the center of the bowl, and adding the mozz/cucumber slice on the side, kind of like a lime on the side of your G&T. Whatever, it's your soup.
Lastly, enjoy! And, imagine yourself at a sidewalk café in Madrid, eating soup and drinking Rioja... or at Maria Elena's kitchen table, talking about the Special K diet and teaching her kids dirty words in English. Your choice.