Saturday, July 12, 2008

Spain in a blender

Dedicated readers out there might remember one of my inaugural posts on this blog entitled Spain in a jar, written back in the day (read: a few months ago) when I hadn't really figured out how to take good photos of food yet (I'm still learning). In that post, I described my nearly lifelong love of Spanish food, and I don't think there's any time better than the summer to enjoy Iberian delicacies. It's true that a lot of Spanish food can be heavy, warming, rib-coating stuff that will keep you full and toasty during the winter. But all three trips that I took to Spain with my family were during the summer, and as a result when I think about Spanish food I think about the simpler, lighter dishes like croquetas, tortilla Espanola, and plates of ham, cheese and bread that you can just sort of nibble at--along with some nice olives and a glass of red wine--when it's hot outside and you don't want to feel too full. And when it's really hot outside and you don't even want to think about cooking? Well, you just whip up some gazpacho in your blender.

I love--love--gazpacho. It's ridiculously easy to make; sometimes translated as "liquid salad," all it is is a bunch of vegetables thrown into a blender and whirred up with some olive oil and vinegar. It's done in about 5 minutes, and then just has to chill for a little while in the fridge before being slurped down, preferably with some bread alongside to wipe up any remains in the bowl. And it's the perfect summer dinner: refreshing and light, it's more like a filling beverage than anything else--hence, liquid salad.

Gazpacho can be served in a number ways, with the main variable being its texture. I like my gazpacho very smooth--I strain some of it after blending--and then garnished with chunky diced toppings like cucumber, tomato, red pepper, and hard-boiled eggs. You can choose to just pulse your gazpacho, though, or forego straining it, if you like a thicker texture. Either way, you can't really go wrong. Don't forget to drizzle a bit of fresh olive oil on top before serving, though!

Serves 4

1. Prepare the vegetables, cutting each into large chunks: 1 peeled and seeded cucumber; 1 red or green bell pepper, seeded; 5-6 medium, ripe tomatoes, seeded; and half a white or yellow onion (optional). Peel and crack 2 cloves of garlic. Place the garlic and half of the vegetables in the blender.
2. Add about 2 tbsp. each olive oil and sherry or red wine vinegar to the blender, along with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Add, also, half a slice of bread; blend on high until the mixture is smooth. Strain the soup through a sieve into a large bowl.
3. Repeat process with other half of vegetables, again adding the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper and bread. Do not strain this portion; add it to the soup in the bowl, stir well and adjust for seasonings.
4. Chill the gazpacho in the fridge until very cold, about 2 hours (the longer it sits, the better it tastes). Alternatively, you can place a large ziploc bag full of ice in the soup to chill it rapidly.
5. Serve the gazpacho in bowls, garnished with small-diced cucumber, bell pepper, tomato and hard-boiled eggs, if desired. Drizzle some olive oil over each portion.

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