Spain is hot! It may be cool in winter and can be cold and snowy in the mountains (great ski resorts!), but for most of the year it is hot and the Spanish food reflects this. It also reflects the abundant variety of fruits and vegetables grown everywhere. One often finds some sort of vegetable as a first course: giant green or white Asparagus served with freshly made Mayonnaise*; a stew of White Beans and Tomatoes; a plate of crunchy, fried baby Artichokes; or Escalivada, a salad of roasted peppers and aubergine (eggplant) cooled, sliced into strips and tossed with sea salt and a good, fruity olive oil. For dessert: fruit, whole and unadulterated. I have learned how to peel and eat an orange with a knife and fork (I’m American, remember: we eat fruit with our fingers).
In the heat of summer, a popular first course is a cold soup: ‘Ajo Blanco’, also known as White Gazpacho, a chilled garlic and almond soup garnished with white grapes; and the more famous red ‘Gazpacho Andaluz’. While there are as many recipes for traditional ‘Gazpacho’ as there are households in Spain the core ingredients and presentation remain the same everywhere: an uncooked, pureed, tomato-based soup with garnishes added by the individual. My Spanish friend puts in enough garlic to cause a mild sweat to break out on the brow. I am a little more reserved.
Last week I gave my favorite Sangria (based on white wine) recipe. This week:
Gazpacho Andaluz (Andalusian Gaspacho)
1 1/2 green pepper (or 1 if it is very large)
1 medium cucumber
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
1 1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tbs sherrry
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup tomato juice
water – up to 5 cups
Peel the cucumber and the garlic. Chop all of the vegetables, reserving 2 tbs of the cucumber, onion and pepper, and 3 tbs of the tomato for garnish. Put the rest of the vegetables along with the remaining ingredients (except water) into a blender and puree. Add water as needed. When smooth pour into a bowl and add enough of the remaining water to get the desired consistency. It should be like a thick, cream soup. (I can’t be too specific as I don’t know how juicy your vegetables were – and this is cooking, not rocket science!). Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper, a bit more vinegar or sherry as desired. Chill (you can replace some of the water with ice cubes to speed up the chilling). Serve with the reserved chopped vegetables on the side as garnish to be added by each diner.
* Mayonnaise is always made fresh, by hand, from scratch, in Spain. One should be careful to try not to get the last of the morning’s batch on a particularly hot day (a late lunch at around 5:00, for example). A friend once told me that more people die from bad mayo then from car crashes in Spain…..