Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cold Soups From the Summer Garden

With summer turning up the heat and the garden bursting with produce and herbs, why not try some cold soup recipes? I thought soup came out of a red and white can until I went to college. It was on a trip to Atlanta, sometime in the early 70s, that I learned to enjoy the most famous cold soup, gazpacho. I have been making it and other cold soups ever since.

Gazpacho has ancient roots. It began as a way to use stale bread, which, when combined with garlic, salt, olive oil and water, could be converted into a stiff paste that would keep a long time. Columbus packed a few barrels of this mixture on his voyages of discovery, for example. The Romans may have added vinegar to the mixture, which probably originated among the wheat-eating cultures of the Middle East during the earliest days of agriculture, roughly 10,000 years ago. The cucumber, cultivated for at least 3000 years and introduced to Europe by the Greeks or Romans from its native India, became an ingredient at some point, and when Spanish explorers brought back tomatoes and peppers from the New World, these found their way into gazpacho, as well. The "classic" version of gazpacho with tomatoes is generally associated with Andalusia, southern Spain, which includes Gibraltar, the gateway to the Mediterranean. Today, however, gazpacho turns up on restaurant menus with all sorts of non-traditional ingredients, from apples to grilled shrimp. There is even a version that is served hot.

One of my gardening goals is to have all the fresh ingredients needed for gazpacho available in the garden by August. Here is my recipe for a classic-style gazpacho. Keep in mind that all amounts are approximate. The soup will be delicious as long as you maintain the ingredients in roughly the same ratios. The quality of the bread matters. If you don't have some leftovers of really good bread, leave out the crumbs altogether.

Gazpacho is a great way to use all those cherry tomatoes!

Gazpacho Andaluz

2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs, from stale country-style bread
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A handful of mixed fresh herbs (parsley, basil, chives, tarragon, chervil) minced
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
3 cups water, tomato juice, chicken stock or vegetable stock
Sour cream
Minced red or yellow bell peppers
Chopped scallions

You can use a food processor to chop the vegetables, but the texture will not be as good as if they are chopped by hand. Combine the chopped vegetables, breadcrumbs, garlic, lemon juice, olice oil, herbs, salt and paprika in a large bowl. Cover the mixture, and place it in the refrigerator to chill. Separately chill the 3 cups of liquid. These components can be held in the refrigerator overnight, if desired.

When ready to serve, combine the vegetable mix with the chilled liquid.   Stir well and serve topped with sour cream, minced peppers and chopped scallions.

This recipe is a variation on traditional gazpacho, in terms of both ingredients and technique. You can find an authentic Andalusian recipe here.

Here's another cold soup, a refreshing starter for a late meal on a hot night.

Uncooked Cold Cucumber Soup

2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

In a food processor or by hand, finely chop the cucumbers. Pieces should be 1/4 inch or less in diameter. Combine the chopped cucumber with the other ingredients in a large bowl and chill until very cold. Serve garnished with additional fresh dill, if desired.

Let's conclude with one more cold soup recipe. This one is for gazpacho's cousin, ajoblanco, made with almonds. Although like gazpacho its exact origins are unknown, ajoblanco is thought to have appeared first in Seville. Certainly the almonds, which are native to the Middle East, arrived in Spain with the Moors. Use a kitchen scale to accurately measure the dry ingredients.

Ajoblanco de Granada

3 1/2 ounces raw almonds, blanched and skins removed
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounces breadcrumbs, from stale country-style bread 
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup less 1 tablespoon Spanish olive oil
1 to 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar
About 1 quart chilled water
Baked potatoes
Chopped parsley

Grind the blanched almonds with the salt in a food processor until you have a coarse meal. Add the breadcrumbs, garlic, olive oil and vinegar and process to a smooth paste. With the motor running, slowly add the water until the soup is the consistency of heavy cream. Chill until very cold.

Serve the soup in chilled bowls, garnished with an anchovy or two. Buttered baked potatoes garnished with parsley are a traditional accompaniment. 

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