We got into somewhat of a jam this week trying to figure out what to write about. Nearly all the ingredients that our CSA members will receive this week already have a vegetable introduction written about them, the exception of course being onions. Needless to say, it didn’t seem like the most compelling subject-matter. It then occurred to us that maybe we could produce an article for a recipe based on the sum of all the ingredients in this week’s CSA box. And we couldn’t have picked a better week.
If you stand on the top floor of our packing shed at Piedmont Biofarm, looking straight out at our south field, you can literally see gazpacho. Directly in front of you will be a drying rack covered in onions we harvested back in June that we’ve cured for storage. Following the gravel path with your eyes looking at the beds between the solar panels you’ll see rows of peppers and heirloom tomatoes, and if you keep looking south across the pond, you’ll see even more rows of cherry tomatoes, peppers, and a patch of cilantro tucked away in the corner near the woods. All these ingredients are the basic building-blocks of this chilled summer soup.
There are many schools of thought on how gazpacho came to be in both form and name. Its origin being the region in Spain called Andalusia is not disputed, however the who, when, and why are not completely clear. The Islamic people who occupied much of Spain for over 700 years brought dishes that utilized garlic, bread, almonds and olive oil made into a paste to bolster and thicken them, similar to that of the more refined French roux. When one travels in Andalusia, the ubiquity of ajo blanco, a chilled soup made from these four ingredients is a true indicator of their influence.
The Fall of Granada and the end of Muslim rule in Spain coincided at the exact time of Columbus’ discovery of the New World in 1492. So when his exploits brought back tomatoes and peppers to Spain, the stage was set for the development of gazpacho as we know it today. Using the base of ajo blanco, Andalusians added myriad summer ingredients, but most importantly tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, herbs, vinegar and red wine itself. Using a mortar, they blended it into the familiar red refreshing mixture that many people have referred to as “liquid salad.”
As far as the etymology of gazpacho is concerned, one would first look to the influence of Arabic on the Spanish language. In his book “Mediterranean Vegetables”, Clifford A. Wright postulates the name could have come from the Mozarab word caspa, meaning “fragments” or “residue”, referring to the bits of veggies that invariably float around in a mostly-blended gazpacho. He then goes on to cite José Briz, whose own book about gazpacho theorizes the word is of Hebrew origin, derived from the word gazaz, meaning “to break into pieces”. Either way, it is always fascinating to try and find where words come from!
When preparing gazpacho the traditional way, you need to follow a few simple steps regardless of ingredients. Once you decide whether your gazpacho does or doesn’t contain bread, or any of the other ingredients we list, all you need to do is cut everything up into small pieces and let it marinate overnight in the fridge with vinegar, olive oil, and salt. This will break down the vegetables’ structure so that they can be blended more easily. It also allows all the juices that are pulled out of the individual veggies to intermingle, creating an increasingly delicious soup as time goes on. Here is our recipe for gazpacho, and any of these ingredients can be removed, increased, or decreased depending on your preference!
4 large ripe tomatoes, plus any cherry tomatoes you may have lying around
1 bell pepper, or a handful of frying peppers like shishitos
1 celery stick
a few pieces of stale bread
1 garlic clove
sherry or red wine vinegar
Cut all the vegetables up into bite-size pieces. Peeling the cucumber and taking the seeds out of the peppers will make a much tastier gazpacho that ultimately blends better. Once all ingredients have been chopped, add chunks of stale bread, minced garlic, and finely chopped cilantro to a big mixing bowl with the cut up vegetables. To finish, add salt, vinegar, and oil. all to taste. Mix well, cover, and let marinate in the fridge overnight. The next day all you need to do is blend it and correct the seasonings. Oh, and eat it of course.
Going forward with this gazpacho recipe as a rough guideline, you may want to experiment by adjusting ingredients. Here are a few suggestions on how to make your gazpacho unique:
Green tomatoes: when it get too cold for ripe tomatoes, green ones have many merits of their own. For this variation all you need to do is roast them in the oven until they’re soft and substitute them for the ripe ones in the original recipe. A green gazpacho is a twist your dinner guests will enjoy.
Roasted peppers: if you have a lot of frying peppers on hand, or don’t love the taste of raw bell peppers, trying roasting or blistering. If you get your peppers coated in oil and set them in a pan under the broiler, you’ll have the makings of a smokier, more flavorful gazpacho.
Roasted cherry tomatoes: same idea as the peppers, and blistered sungold cherry tomatoes are incredibly tasty.
Mix up your herbs: substitute your favorite herbs for the ones we suggested. Mint pairs nicely with the green gazpacho we suggested above, and basil or oregano would stand up to the strong flavors of roasted peppers.
Watermelon: it would be an understatement to say that watermelon is our favorite snack here on the farm. Adding these guys to your gazpacho adds that refreshing factor no other ingredient can match.
Whatever you decide, just remember: a summer without gazpacho is no summer at all.