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Fight the summer heat with a cool gazpacho

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

Warm, sticky, humid August weather is upon us. At the Farmers’ Market, tomatoes and peppers are at their peak. Cool, spicy gazpacho can help you fight summer’s scorching heat.

Today, gazpacho as a tomato-based soup spiced with hot peppers from Spain’s Andalusia region. But it wasn’t always this way.

Tomatoes and peppers were unknown in Spain prior to the discovery of the New World. Originally, gazpacho was bread-based, seasoned with olive oil, salt and garlic. In Roman times, vinegar was added. Later, lemons, grapes, almonds, melons, cucumbers, and herbs like mint and parsley were added. There was no refrigeration, so it was served at room temperature. This original Andalusian peasant soup was closer to what is known today in Spain as Sopa de Ajo (garlic soup) or Ajo Blanco. This dish came with the Arabs who occupied most of Spain during the Middle Ages.

Gastronomic historians speculate that when this dish first arrived in Spain, it was poor people’s food: bread, olive oil and water with garlic, salt and vinegar for flavoring. These ingredients were pounded and blended together in a large wooden bowl called a dornillo, and served at room temperature.

The soup was eaten by workers in fields – vineyards, citrus groves, etc. – who needed a modest lunch and relief from the sun’s fiery heat. With the arrival of tomatoes and peppers from the New World, Andalusian field workers transformed the traditional bread soup into our modern red gazpacho. Tomatoes have replaced bread; hot peppers have replaced garlic. Today, this uncooked soup is made from a mixture of fresh, raw vegetables, including tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions and celery that are pureed in a blender or food processor, then chilled. There are many variations – some more like a cool beverage, others like a chunky soup, still others that are more like a salad. For a smooth soup, be sure to peel the tomatoes and put through a sieve to remove the seeds.

The first American recipe for gazpacho was in Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife (1824). Cookbook author Betty Wason wrote in the 1960s that this ‘soup salad of Spain’ had become fashionable in the United States.

Even in Spain, the soup has evolved and today there are many regional versions, some containing almonds and melons, others without tomatoes and peppers. In western Spain, a red (tomato) gazpacho is served garnished with diced cooked ham. In addition to tomatoes and peppers, other vegetables and fruit can be added; there are recipes for watermelon gazpacho and almond gazpacho, among others.

Icy, thirst-quenching and invigorating, gazpacho was invented for hot summer days. Because it is a blend of fresh vegetables, it is also a healthy treat. Tomatoes have lots of vitamins and antioxidants, especially vitamin C and lycopene.

No one knows the origin of the word. Speculations suggest that gazpacho refers to crumbs or fragments – stale breadcrumbs – which were the base of this soup. José Briz, author of “Breviario del gazpacho y de los gazpachos,” suggests the word might be related to the Hebrew gazaz, meaning to break into pieces, referring to the soup’s bread base.

In August, when the garden brings forth its plenty, gazpacho makes use of vegetables at their peak ripeness. Of the original ingredients, garlic, olive oil, salt and vinegar or lemon juice are still important to obtaining the right balance of tart, sweet and salty that makes an excellent gazpacho. But fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other vegetables fill this simple chilled soup with refreshing great flavor.

Fresh Herbed

Gazpacho

Ingredients:

1/2 – 3/4 pound very ripe tomatoes (about 3)

1 chile or Serrano pepper

1 bell pepper

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth (homemade is best) or tomato juice

1 large onion

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

1 lime or lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh minced chives

2 Tablespoons fresh minced parsley

1 teaspoon fresh minced basil

1 teaspoon fresh minced tarragon

Directions:

Peel tomatoes and put through a sieve to remove seeds; remove pepper seeds. Place in food processor or chop finely. Crush garlic with salt, or mince fine. Peel and mince the onion. Juice the lemon, and remove any seeds. Combine all ingredients in a bowl or a food processor. Add fresh minced herbs and serve.

Garnish with croutons or a dollop of yogurt or sour cream if desired.

Cantaloupe-Cucumber Gazpacho

Ingredients:

1 medium cantaloupe (peeled, seeded, chopped)

1 cucumber (peeled, seeded, chopped)

1 small to medium red onion, peeled and chopped

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Juice and zest from half a lemon

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Fresh mint and/or parsley

Directions:

In blender, puree cantaloupe, cucumber, onion, lemon, salt and water until smooth. With motor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Taste, and adjust seasonings, adding salt, black pepper, lemon juice or honey as needed. Chill. Stir in 1 – 2 Tablespoons chopped or thinly sliced fresh mint. Garnish with fresh mint or parsley sprigs.

Bread Gazpacho

A heartier bread soup that is halfway between red gazpacho and ajo blanco.

Ingredients:

1 French baguette (about 1/2 pound) or equivalent amount stale rolls or bread

5 garlic cloves

2 cups almonds

3/4 cup olive oil

1 cucumber

2 cups diced watermelon or other melon

1 onion, diced

1 cucumber, diced

1 bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 or 2 stalks celery, diced

1 cup fresh minced parsley, mint, or some of each

Directions:

Crumble the bread or rolls and combine with about a cup of water for about an hour. Gently remove and “squeeze” dry. Place the bread, almonds and garlic in a food processor. Bend until smooth. With the motor running, slowly pour in the olive oil. This will create a smooth paste. Add cucumber and blend. Pour into bowls but fill just half to 2/3 full. Wash and finely dice remaining vegetables. Everyone can customize their soup as they wish. Also have on hand yogurt and Tabasco for those who like it hotter.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author Yvona Fast.

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