FIRST THINGS FIRST. I have come to realize over the last few months as this idea and website sat, well, marinating (pardon the pun) that starting a blog is like starting a novel. There is so much pressure on the beginning because it is the beginning that defines so much of anything.
This blog began, truly, in a small town in California. It began with what seemed like an acre-sized garden with corn stalks and summer squash and carrots so delicious the gophers would take them in rows at a time. It began with fresh eggs from chickens who roamed the pastures and even ventured onto the front porch on occasion, chickens with names and personalities and even one who danced in his own funny way. Most of all, though, it began in a kitchen where my mother made absolutely delicious meals. Growing up on a ranch instilled in me a love for fresh, wholesome, natural ingredients. Growing up in my mother’s kitchen instilled in me a love for food: for perfectly-prepared dishes, for keen recipe selection, and for food, glorious food.
And so, on Mother’s Day, and on a beautiful, warm day in May, a simple warm-weather dish that showcases its ingredients seemed like the perfect way to begin.
I came to gazpacho relatively late in life. I had it at a beautiful dinner at a hotel in Santa Barbara about two years ago. “Chilled” is not a word I usually associate with soup, and its chunky texture, its temperature, and its fresh taste all endeared themselves to my taste buds. In case you’re wondering, the history of gazpacho is apparently subject to debate, though most agree that its home is Andalusia, a southern province of Spain (not the fairy tale world in the movie “Enchanted“). For a more extensive consideration of origins and varieties, take a gander at the 1989 New York Times article by Steven Raichlen, “Gazpacho: Theme and Variations.”
It is delicious. So delicious that it was served in tiny glasses as an appetizer at M.’s and my wedding. It is the type of dish that highlights the fresh vegetables in it, and when looking for a recipe that will do just that, my first stop is usually the Barefoot Contessa extraordinaire, Ina Garten. There are many variations on gazpacho (or “gaspacho,” in Portugal’s version of it), but this is my current favorite for two reasons: first, it is a minimalist dish that highlights good ingredients and combines effortlessly to be far more than the sum of its parts, and second, it is refreshingly simple to make. A delicious home-cooked (or home-chilled, at least) meal that highlights fresh ingredients and can be fit into a busy professional woman’s day? That’s pretty much the trifecta, right there.
GAZPACHO, adapted slightly from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes (also known as roma tomatoes)
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
23 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onion into one-inch cubes.
Place each vegetable separately in a food processor with a steel blade and pulse until chopped. Ina uses an exclamation point when she says, Do not overprocess!, but I like it a little more finely “chopped” for texture reasons. Some people like their gazpacho chunkier. This is a personal preference; do whatever you like.
After each vegetable is processed, place it in a large bowl with the others. Add the garlic, the tomato juice, the white wine vinegar, the olive oil, the salt, and the pepper. Mix well, and chill. Chill, chill, chill. The longer it chills, the more the flavors intermingle.
Drag a spoon down the center of a halved cucumber to seed it efficiently.
The garlic can be pretty-much-minced in the food processor if you recently managed to break your garlic press in an unsalvageable way.
I double the recipe to have leftovers for at least one more night, and serve it with a fresh sliced baguette and cheese, with fruit for dessert for a lovely warm May dinner.