Sunday, October 23, 2011

andalusian gazpacho/cold tomato soup with corn guacamole

Gazpacho is a little tricky. You might think that you could just throw some peppers and onions and garlic and bread and a whole bunch of tomatoes in the blender, let it chill in the fridge for a couple of hours and call it dinner. But if you're not careful, that's when you get bland watery gazpacho, or a pulpy granular mash with very little liquid, or gazpacho so potently pungent from raw garlic and onions that you'll be scrubbing the taste off your tongue for days. With something so simple as a raw soup, it's extremely important that you strike a nice balance with your ingredients, because it's the simplest things that are easiest to mess up.

I have had some rough gazpachos in my day, so I was pretty excited when the Serious Eats food lab tackled the subject in their usual exhaustively scientific manner. Their recipe included all the usual suspects: tomato, cucumber, red onion, bell pepper, garlic, white bread and olive oil-- happily, latter two items excluded, all things I was receiving in massive quantities from my weekly food co-op share some months back. The difference was in the preparation.

In typical food lab style, the resulting recipe is gotten crazy involved and time consuming, but sometimes that's ok. For me, at the end of a long day, cooking a big involved meal can become an almost meditative experience, as I slowly and methodically tackle each ingredient... Of course, there are some nights that you might not want to eat at 9 or 10:00, but usually, it's a good way for me to unwind. This recipe is time consuming, but it doesn't call for any difficult techniques or high tech/obscure equipment, so its still totally approachable.

The reason that this gazpacho has gotten so complex is that the food lab wants to maximize the amount of juices you get from the veggies, which is admittedly an admirable goal. First, you to chop up all the tomatoes and their ilk into roughly one inch chunks. At this point, you would except to go straight to the blender, but instead you add salt and take a little 30 minute break, and just let it sit while you dice up some old crusty bread.

After a half hour, there should be lots of juice under your veggies, so you strain them out and spread them on a sheet pan, which gets popped in the freezer for another 30 minutes, which also apparently will produce more juice. Meanwhile, toss your cubed bread in the first batch of juice and let it soak it all in. Once your vegetables have frozen, you actually want to let them sit out at room temperature for yet another 30 minutes. I know this seems overly fussy, but the Food Lab guys always have their reasons, and while I can't say I've replicated their tests for this recipe, I was definitely pleased with the result: this time consuming gazpacho was one of the best I've ever tasted, and I spent like, six whole days in Spain once.

But seriously. At this point you are finally home free. Blend the veggies and bread in a blender, add your olive oil and vinegar (they said sherry, I used red wine...), strain if you want (after my experiences last summer, I wasn't about to), season and serve with cracked black pepper, a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of finely chopped chives or scallions.

This was very rich and flavorful tasting, with a full bodied almost creamy texture that I definitely attribute to all the fussy resting and freezing and what not. And also to the fact that fresh summer veggies are the bomb. Sadly, winter is coming. Why must Ned Stark always be right?

On the other end of the time-consumption spectrum lies this recipe, for fresh tomato soup with roasted corn guacamole, also courtesy of Serious Eats.

The trickiest thing about this soup is actually the fancy garnish, a corn guacamole of oven roasted corn kernels, red onion, cilantro, fresh lime juice, jalapeno, and avocado. As you can probably guess, those ingredients combine to form a pretty amazing topping, that would be a perfect party dip under normal circumstances. Here, this phenomenal corn guacamole actually has a job to do: make cold tomato soup look good. Luckily, that's not much of a challenge.

The soup is simplicity itself: throw some tomatoes in the blender, and run until smooth. Then, slowly drizzle in the a little olive oil, and, once the mixture has emulsified, add a little red wine vinegar. It's a great tomato showcase, that much is for sure. I was surprised at how just a little seasoning and some oil and vinegar were able to transform raw tomato into something exciting, with a nuanced flavor. Despite have approximately three ingredients and taking less than five minutes to throw together, this soup was a winner, even before it got all decked out with a zesty corn guacamole!

So in the clash of cold summer soups, it's hard to name a victor. The gazpacho was definitely a smashing success, but the comparative ease of the second soup might just give it the edge... In any event, I know I have two great refreshing summer soups at the ready for next year. So really, wouldn't you say that I'm the winner?

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