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Seasonal Pantry: Summer's bounty makes refreshing gazpacho


There is an urgency to our harvest these days, a sense of diminishing returns that comes with the slow decline of light as days shorten and nights lengthen. The light has made its shift from summer’s buttery sunbeams to fall’s haunting golden glow, a change that came earlier this year than I can ever recall. I saw it in late June or early July and quickly turned away, instantly embracing that magical elixir of denial. But I saw it and, in the end, couldn’t ignore it.

We now understand, in a visceral way, that summer will not last forever. Nor will its tomatoes, melons, peppers and tender zucchini. This is the time to indulge in summer’s harvest at every opportunity — which, should you have a garden or do most of your shopping at a farmers market, may be every meal or nearly every meal.

It is a great time for the chilled tomato soups that we call gazpacho, as tomatoes are nearing their dead-ripe period, when they are heavy in the hand and full of succulent juices.

Gazpacho did not start out as the almost-a-salad-in-a-bowl sort of thing that it has evolved into today. Its roots are in Spain, as a peasant staple, a soup of leftover bread (including the crumbs), garlic, olive oil and vinegar, something that more closely resembles our bread soups.

Today, it is another thing entirely, though at its best it honors its spirit, if not its letter: It is an ideal way to use ingredients that might otherwise go to waste.

When it comes to gazpacho, I have a few guidelines that I think give the very best results. Within these guidelines, there is tremendous room for variation based on what is at hand. You might add fresh mint, diced or grated zucchini, minced cucumbers, tomatillos, corn, roasted sweet peppers or quartered cherry tomatoes, depending on what you have either in your garden or pantry. The important thing is to get the basic foundation right by peeling your tomatoes over an open flame or high burner instead of plunging them into boiling water, by mincing the tomatoes or passing them through a food mill and not putting them in a blender or food processor, and by not using raw green peppers, which will eclipse all the other flavors.

The easiest way to vary this basic recipe is by changing the tomatoes. If you’d like golden gazpacho, use all yellow, orange and gold tomatoes. Green tomatoes — not unripe ones, but those heirlooms that are green when ripe — make a beautiful and delicious chilled soup, too. For other variations, see suggestions at the end of the recipe.

Basic Gazpacho

Serves 4, easily doubled

6 to 8 large ripe red tomatoes, peeled, seeded, minced and drained (see Note below)

1 serrano, minced

5 garlic cloves, minced

1 small red onion, cut into small dice

3 cups homemade chicken stock or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons best-quality red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons each: basil, Italian parsley and cilantro, chopped

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

1/3 cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil

Put the tomatoes into a medium bowl. Add the serrano, garlic and onion and stir in the stock, lemon juice and vinegar. Cover and let rest about 15 minutes.

Stir in the herbs, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate for an hour.

To serve, ladle into soup plates, drizzle olive oil over each portion and serve immediately.

Note: To peel tomatoes, spear a tomato through its stem end and rotate it slowly in a high burner or close to a hot burner as the skin blisters. When all of the tomatoes are seared, peel off the skins, cut out the stem cores and cut them in half through their equators. Squeeze out the seeds and gel, mince the tomatoes and, if they are particularly juicy, transfer to a strainer set over a deep bowl and let some of the liquid drain off. For a smoother gazpacho, pass the drained tomatoes through a food mill.

Variations

Top the soup with a generous dollop of whole-milk plain yogurt or raita, an Indian condiment of yogurt and other ingredients, such as minced radishes, diced potatoes or minced herbs. (For links to raitas from the Seasonal Pantry archives, visit “Eat This Now” at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com, where you will also find more recipes for summer soups.)

Top each portion with 2 or 3 tablespoons of freshly made toasted breadcrumbs before drizzling with olive oil.

Stir about 1/3 to 1/2 cup of creme fraiche to loosen it, season with salt, chipotle powder or hot sauce and some minced cilantro, stir and swirl in circles on top of each serving of soup.

I stumbled on this recipe on a website and was surprised to discover that it was credited to me, as it included both techniques and ingredients I do not use and never recommend. Here, I set the record straight: Do not peel your tomatoes by plunging them into boiling water; do not use canned chicken broth; and do not put the soup ingredients through a blender or food processor.

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Golden Gazpacho with Avocado Cream

Serves 6 to 8

1 large or 2 small firm-ripe Haas avocados, halved, pits removed

2 serranos, stemmed, seeded and chopped

— Juice of 2 limes (about 1/3 cup)

— Kosher salt

— Black pepper in a mill

4 pounds ripe golden tomatoes, peeled, seeded and minced

3 cups homemade chicken broth or stock

1 small red onion, minced

5 garlic cloves, minced

4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Scoop out the flesh of the avocado and put it into a food processor fitted with its metal blade. Add the serranos, lime juice and 2 tablespoons water and pulse several times. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of the work bowl. If the mixture seems quite thick, add another 2 tablespoons of water, season generously with salt and pulse until smooth and even. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate.

Put the minced tomatoes into a bowl and stir in the chicken stock. Add the onion and garlic; stir well. Season with salt and pepper, stir, cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To serve, remove the soup and the cream from the refrigerator. Taste both and correct for salt. Ladle the gazpacho into soup plates and then drizzle circles of avocado cream over each portion, starting in the center and working outward. Repeat the motion with the olive oil.