Eric Akis: Gobble up some gazpacho

Eric Akis

Once or twice every summer, I like to make cold soup. Something savoury, well chilled and refreshing that perks up and pleases your palate and is perfect to serve on a warm day.

When deciding what to make, I get inspiration from seeing what local produce is available. When doing that last week, I could not ignore the bountiful display of B.C.-grown tomatoes, cucumber and peppers I saw for sale at my corner grocery store. I realized they could be used to make a very flavourful gazpacho, so I bought what I needed and was soon back home preparing it.

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Gazpacho is a Spanish-style cold soup first made eons ago in Spain’s Andalusia region. As noted in a previous story, according to the Oxford Companion to Food, gazpacho is derived from a concoction Arabs prepared when they occupied much of Spain from the eighth to 13th centuries. Several sources said the word gazpacho is of Arabic origin and means “soaked bread,” an ingredient still featured in gazpacho.

These days, there are two main styles of gazpacho, one made with lighter-in-colour ingredients that in North America is often called white gazpacho, and another made with tomatoes.

The latter style of gazpacho was first made in Spain when tomatoes were introduced from Mexico by Spanish colonizers.

When reviewing myriad recipes for tomato-based gazpachos, beyond containing tomatoes, no two seemed exactly the same. Not surprising for a soup that has been made for such as long time. For example, some were smooth, some were chunky, and others were somewhere in between, which is the route I took.

To make my version, skinned and seeded roma (plum) tomatoes, cucumber, green bell pepper, shallots, stock and panko (coarse breadcrumbs) were blended with flavourings, such as garlic, spices, olive oil and vinegar. Although the soup was blended, it’s not completely smooth and has a nice texture.

Beyond putting bread in some form in the soup, some versions of gazpacho, including mine, are also topped with croutons. To make them, I baked cubes of bread coated in olive oil and Parmesan cheese until golden and crispy.

My recipe yields about three cups of gazpacho, enough for two generous servings that could be enjoyed as a main course for lunch or dinner, or four smaller servings that could be served as a starter before the main course.

When making the gazpacho, remember that it needs to chill a while in the refrigerator before it is served. So, factor that in when plotting out when you’ll make it.

B.C. Summer Gazpacho with Parmesan Olive Oil Croutons

Surprisingly rich tasting cold soup is made with in-season B.C. ingredients, such as tomatoes, cucumber and bell pepper.

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus chilling time
Cooking time: About one minute
Makes: Two main-course servings; or four appetizer servings

3/4 lb. ripe roma (plum) tomatoes (about 4, depending on size)

1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cubed

1/2 cup English cucumber, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

3 Tbsp chopped shallot

1 medium garlic clove, chopped

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup vegetable cocktail, such as V-8

1/4 cup panko (see Note 1)

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp balsamic vinegar, or to taste

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp smoked paprika (see Note 2)

• pinch or two red pepper flakes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 Tbsp chopped, fresh Italian parsley, basil or oregano, or to taste

• Parmesan olive oil croutons (see recipe below)

Fill a medium-sized pot with six inches of water. Set pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.

Cut stem end out of each tomato. Now cut a shallow X into the blossom (curved) end of each tomato. Submerge tomatoes in the boiling water until the skins start to loosen, about one minute.

Lift tomatoes out of the water and set on a plate. When cool enough to handle, pull the skin off each tomato, they should slip off easily. Cut each peeled tomato in half. Now, with your fingers, pulls out and discard the seeds in the tomatoes.

Coarsely chop the seeded tomatoes and set them in a food processor. Add the bell pepper, cucumber, shallot, garlic, vegetable cocktail, panko, vinegar, oil, cumin, paprika and pepper flakes. Pulse until the vegetables are finely chopped.

Transfer soup to a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Tightly cover and chill the gazpacho at least four hours, or up to one day.

When ready to serve, stir and then taste the gazpacho again and add more salt and pepper, as needed. You can also thin the gazpacho with a bit more stock, if it has overly thickened while sitting in the refrigerator.

Ladle the gazpacho into chilled bowls and serve with a bowl of the croutons.

Note 1: Panko are coarse breadcrumbs sold in the ethnic foods aisle of grocery stores.

Note 2: Smoked paprika is sold in the bottled herb and spice of supermarkets. It gives the soup a richer colour and a pleasing hint of smoke in its taste.

Parmesan Olive Oil Croutons

Nicely flavoured, golden, crispy croutons can be set on gazpacho or other soup. The croutons can also, of course, be used on salads. This recipe could be doubled or further expanded — something you might wish to do if you like having croutons at the ready to use on a soup or salad.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 20 to 22 minutes
Makes: Two cups

2 cups white bread, cut into small 1/2-inch cubes

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1/2 tsp dried oregano

• pinch garlic powder

Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, unless non-stick.

Place bread in a bowl. Add oil, cheese, oregano and garlic powder and toss to combine.

Spread bread in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake 10 minutes, and then give bread a stir. Bake 10 to 12 minutes more, or until you have golden croutons.

Cool croutons to room temperature. Once cooled, transfer to a tight-sealing jar and store at room temperature until needed for the gazpacho or other use. The croutons will keep at least a week.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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