Gazpacho

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“Good news, everyone! You don’t have to eat meat! I made enough gazpacho for all—it’s tomato soup, served ice cold!!”

Poor Lisa Simpson is ridiculed and dismissed for offering a giant bowl of gazpacho to the carnivorous residents of Springfield at her father’s BBBQ. But I know what Lisa knows: the ‘spach is one of the most delicious things you can possibly eat, provided two things are true: one, that you have some really excellent, peak-summer (or early fall!) tomatoes, and two, that you’re making it correctly.

Take my grandmother as an example. She made her gazpacho with gorgeous, home-grown beefsteaks, plucked fresh from my grandfather’s garden—then she simply chopped them up, mixed them with some onions and maybe a green pepper from the supermarket, and called it a day. There was no seasoning; there was no acid; there wasn’t even any garlic. What she had, pretty much, was the world’s mildest salsa—which doesn’t sound awful, per se, but sure as hell isn’t gazpacho.

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I’m talking, by the way, about my other grandmother—not Nonnie. No, Nonnie’s gazpacho was a little more complicated than Grandma’s, which was actually a source of contention between the two of them. See, Grandma’s version was actually based on Nonnie’s recipe… minus all the spices, and the vinegar (too sour!), and the wine (wine is only for Shabbat!). Minus all the flavor, in other words. Family legend has it that Grandma once served her de-gazpachoed gazpacho to Nonnie, and Nonnie was so incensed that she… well, I don’t remember the rest of the story, but she was probably polite in the moment, then railed about the slight all the way home. As one does.

The funny thing is, though, that Nonnie’s gazpacho is also kinda wrong, at least if you’re judging it against the classic Andalusian kind. Nonnie’s gazpacho is chunky; in Spain, it’s almost always blended smooth. It features several vegetables, whereas the Andalusian sort is often purely tomato-based. Nonnie’s is a deep red, thanks largely to the wine (which is in there, I gradually gathered, for color rather than flavor); the real stuff tends more toward a creamy pink, mostly thanks to the almost unseemly amount of olive oil it contains.

The Andalusian kind? Completely, utterly wonderful, whether you’re eating it at a quaint little restaurant or while zooming through the countryside on a train from Barcelona to Madrid (I have done this, I’m sorry, don’t hate me). The Nonnie kind? Let’s find out.

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Gazpacho

4 tomatoes, peeled [I used big red heirlooms, because we’re worth it]
1 large onion
1 cucumber [Go for seedless if you can, since it’ll be less watery]
1 green chile pepper [I used a basic jalapeno, but you could definitely get more creative here]
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire
1-2 drops Tabasco
2-4 cups tomato juice [I used two, from three of the teensy cans I still had left over after making this a zillion years ago]
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon each salt and pepper

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Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor and blend coarsely.  [Or, if you don’t want to have to clean out a whole food processor or blender, use an immersion blender.] Pour into large bowl, cover and chill thoroughly [for at least a few hours]. Garnish with chopped avocado, cucumber.

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The Verdict: I was reluctant, at first, to sully a perfectly fine-looking bowl of gazpacho with half a glass of red wine—wine that would just sit there, not getting cooked, infusing the rest of the soup with its unmistakeable wininess. (Clearly, I was having flashbacks of this sherry-flavored sherry soup.) Weirdly enough, though, the wine ended up fading into the background flavor-wise; it seemed to be mostly there to transform the soup from vaguely flesh-colored (which, yes, is not a super appealing tint) to a darker and deeper red.

So the soup didn’t taste like wine. It did, however, taste pretty acidic, between the vinegar and the tomato juice—unbearably so for my second taster, who couldn’t finish a whole bowl of the stuff. Which is why (I’m sorry, Nonnie!) I ended up doctoring it by blending in a good half-cup of olive oil until the whole remainder was smooth and glossy, which lightened that deep red, added a deep richness, and took this gazpacho much closer to the Andalusian ideal.

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You can see the difference. You can taste it, too: the kind on the right is, simply, better. Sorry, Nonnie: Your version may be miles above Grandma’s, but in the end, I have to claim this gazpacho for the land of Spain.

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