"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

All about my gazpacho

by Julie Tilsner on August 26, 2007

in Minor Miracles, Dinner, Vegetarian

In Pedro Almodovar’s classic film, “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” (1986) a woman violently chops up tomatoes, cucumbers and onions and throws them into a blender, along with the better part of a bottle of sleeping pills and I think a little piece of her finger. Another woman later comes along, a strangely beautiful woman with a nose like a Picasso painting, and drinks the mixture down.

She promptly falls asleep at the next most opportune plot point.

What did she drink? I asked my editors, who were older and more sophisticated than I was, and who had taken me to see the film.

Gazpacho, they told me. Very common in Spain.

I’ve made gazpacho maybe four or five times in the ensuing 20 years. But I always think of this woman, full of passion and fury, in a brightly-hued kitchen, hunched over her vegetables, hacking them into chunks with a kitchen knife of alarming heft.

It’s one of those kinds of dishes – simple and meant to be thrown together without another thought – that I so excel at ruining. So when I decided to make up a batch as an appetizer for my Spanish dinner party, I knew it wasn’t enough to simply have a few tomatoes, a cucumber, an onion and some garlic taking up space on my cutting board. I knew I had to have a plan, a recipe. I knew I had to have some sort of tomato juice, too.

I emailed Julia and asked for her recipe. She’d shown me how to make it on my own the first time, after all. But what I got back was a message saying “Oh, a little of this and a little of that, you know, and a pinch of this and you’re done!” It’s been established that I can’t do that.

So I turned to my new cookbook, The New Best Recipe, a tome published by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated. Cook’s is known for breaking down any recipe and virtually stupid-proofing it for you. I like that in a cookbook. This one also featured three full pages of exegesis on the art of gazpacho including illustrated instructions on how to cut your vegetables!

Here’s where I must bow low and doff my hat to the editors of Cook’s, because they make it hard for even people like me to screw up.

Right away they pooh-poohed the standard American practice of throwing a bunch of chopped vegetables into the food processor and pureeing it all together. They preferred chunky-style soup in which the flavor of each vegetable held its own in a bracing tomato broth. Hear hear!

So, following the illustrations, I cut everything by hand as best I could. No violent hacking this time, although there was a little sawing action. It’s really time to take my knives to be sharpened.

I roughly followed the recipe in the New Best Recipes (pages 72-74), figuring I wouldn’t need so much gazpacho for my modest dinner party, and suspecting that Tony, after an initial sip, wouldn’t be eating much no matter how good it turned out. He’s just not a cold vegetable kinda guy.

Here’s what I used:

2 medium beefsteak tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/4 inch dice

1 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4 dice

1 small to medium cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/4 dice. I left the skin on for color.

1/2 small sweet onion, minced

2 medium garlic cloves, minced (could have used just one in keeping with the halving of the rest of the recipe, but I love garlic)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup sherry vinegar (I used a dark, sherry vinegar that I actually bought in Jerez, Spain.)

ground black pepper

3 cups tomato juice (Cook’s swears by Welch’s brand, but I couldn’t find it. Campbell’s seemed to turn out fine)

1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I didn’t use this at all, but you might like your gazpacho with more kick)

8 ice cubes

Combine the tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, onion, garlic, salt, vinegar and black pepper to taste in a large, non-reactive bowl and let stand for about five minutes until the vegetables begin to release their juices (!). Stir in the tomato juice, hot pepper sauce (if using) and ice cubes. Cover tightly with tinfoil or plastic wrap and refrigerate to blend the flavors..at LEAST 4 hours and for up to two days.

I could not have been happier when I tried my gazpacho the next morning. Delicious! Tangy and fresh tasting! I served it up in my charming eggshell-colored Heath bowls, to unanimous delight. Gazpacho Even Tony drank half a bowl.

Earlier I had considered trying to make a traditional garnish – something involving frying up bread crumbs and garlic in olive oil that Julia had showed me once, long ago. There’s a name for it I can’t recall…starts with an M…

No matter. It wasn’t needed. The intensity of the gazpacho was enough. I suspect the sherry vinegar was the ingredient that put it over the top, but what do I know of such alchemy?  Next time I’m making it, I’ll invite you over.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

elfini August 27, 2007 at 10:07 am

Viva Cook’s Illustrated!
Will you also be making this in Catalina next summer? I’m a gazpacho newbie – you could set the standard!


Kim August 27, 2007 at 9:39 pm

Sounds good! My husband is the gazpacho go-to guy in our house. Last time I tried to make home-made croutons I put large chunks of well-oiled bread in my toaster over and started a fire, though luckily it was contained in the toaster oven. Or, what used to be the toaster oven.


AT August 28, 2007 at 10:23 am

Well you do know me; the words puree, squashed, mashed, or reduced to pulp don’t bode well in my gastronomic preference–BUT! My Spanish blood tells me this was one heck of a gazpacho! It could have been the sherry vinegar you brought back from Spain, but I suspect it was more a mix of your (beauty) passion, and fury in preparing it.


holler August 29, 2007 at 6:13 pm

yeugh! What a gruesome description, i must wait till tomorrow to read on!


Kelli Johnson September 1, 2007 at 10:07 am

Sounds delicious! I was perusing the MOLAA catalog and I see salsa lessons. Hmmmmm, is this instructor Tony, anyone you know?


LH September 1, 2007 at 6:45 pm

It works! Even without the Heath crockery! Especially recommended for the first night on a beach camping trip after a dusty few hours in the car.


Nomie November 13, 2007 at 9:35 pm

Super late, but the fried breadcrumb topping sounds like migas. Also served on its own as a bar snack, like peanuts or pretzels, in Spain.


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