Saturday, August 10, 2013


Ripe, juicy tomatoes, best for gazpacho.

It's all about the ingredients! The first gazpacho I made this summer was not up to snuff. It was a hot, hot day, when a body craves the cool tang of a good gazpacho. But, it was desire unfulfilled.

Garlic from the garden.
“The garlic tastes like plastic,” said Ben, my best critic. And so it did. Purchased at the supermarket, it was old and likely shipped from China, probably in plastic crates. A week later I harvested my own garlic, fresh, juicy and pungent.

“And, the tomatoes taste of nothing.” They were pretty tomatoes, big and deep red. But, Ben was right. They were too early, ripened under plastic to ship to northern markets.

Now that we’ve got locally grown tomatoes, I bought several varieties of ripe, red ones to try in gazpacho—plum tomatoes (in Spanish they are tomates pera—pear tomatoes), big beefsteaks, pricey Raf tomatoes. The big, mishapen beefsteak tomatoes, often with discoloration and blemishes, seemed to me to have the right combination of sugar and acid, sweetness and tang. They also had the best texture, but that was of less importance as they would be pureed for gazpacho. The Raf were equally delicious—but best to save for slicing. The plum tomatoes had nothing to offer in flavor, though they had fewer seeds than the other varieties. And the August version of the pretty ones I had used earlier in the season (variety Daniela, widely grown commercially) were as dull as they were before. They are as if stamped from a mold.

Since then, I have been experimenting with each of the ingredients in basic gazpacho (scroll down to last week’s blog to see the basic recipe).

Country bread is best for gazpacho.

Bread. Sturdy country bread made from pale unbleached flour and baked in an horno de leña (wood-fired oven) really is best. But, I absolutely would also use any leftover baguette or roll, once it was one or two days old. In the traditional kitchen, gazpacho was a way to use up stale bread. Soaked in water until softened, the bread is squeezed out and beaten with the olive oil to make a smooth emulsion.

Do you really have to remove the crusts (as I specify in the recipe)? No. Crustless bread makes a more refined gazpacho, but, so what? And, yes, you can substitute good whole wheat bread.

What you shouldn’t use in gazpacho is packaged bread with preservatives and added sugar.

Vary the gazpacho with single varietal olive oils.

Olive oil. It has to be extra virgin. My everyday oil is an extra virgin with a supermarket label (my own olive oil was used up months ago). Like most olive oil from Spain, it is a blend of olive varieties. Either different varieties of olives are all milled together or, with higher quality oil, the olives are milled separately, then a coupage is blended to achieve a balance of flavors.

For the gazpacho experiments, I added different single oil varietals to the same batch of gazpacho. I used Picual, Hojiblanca, Arbequina and Vidueña (which I had never tried before). Picual and Hojiblanca—the most widely grown olives in Andalusia—were very similar (perhaps because they were made by the same cooperative)—pleasantly fruity. The gazpacho with Arbequina oil had a distinctly sweet almond taste while the Vidueña had a bitter edge, not unpleasant with the sweet tomatoes.

Some other time I might try out flavored olive oils—smoked, herb, citric—to give gazpacho another dimension.

Vinegars, from the left, red wine, white wine, PX and Sherry. Plus, unripe grapes and lemon juice.

Vinegar. I also tried out different vinegars as well as lemon juice in another batch of gazpacho. They were white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, Sherry vinegar, Pedro Ximenez Sherry vinegar, lemon juice and verjuice (made from unripe grapes). White wine and red wine vinegar have 6 percent acidity while Sherry vinegar has 7 percent. So, I added less Sherry vinegar to 1 cup of gazpacho. The lemon juice was much less acidic, so the gazpacho needed propotionately more.

Plain white wine vinegar—the most widely used in Spain—was just fine. Fruity and tangy. The Sherry vinegar we liked best for depth of flavor, mellowness as well as acidity. The PX vinegar had a distinctive raisiny-winy taste—not quite compatible with gazpacho. Lemon’s citric acid gave a completely different tang, delicious in a different way. The homemade verjuice was not very satisfactory, maybe not enough of it.

Different peppers for gazpacho.
Peppers, cucumbers, onion. These are all nonessential ingredients, so did not merit extensive trials. The green peppers most used for gazpacho in Andalusia are the skinny, green Italian frying peppers. Their bittersweet flavor and crisp texture are just right as a chopped addition. While red bell pepper is hardly used at all, I must say, it sure looks pretty in a picture!

Salt. It never occurred to me until this minute to try different salts in gazpacho. Next batch.

Water. Cold spring water is best, but not easily come by. I use well water. Rather than chlorinated tap water, use bottled water to dilute the gazpacho. For an interesting variation, try fizzy soda water. Add it immediately before serving, so it doesn’t lose its bubbles.

Which gazpacho is best? Today's gazpacho!

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