Welcome to Picture Real Food! Our inaugural post comes at the height of summer in the northern hemisphere, with temperatures blazing around 105F here in sunny Southern California. Not the best weather for outside work, or for my poor chickens who constantly pant under the shade of their favorite rose bush, but it’s fantastic weather for my vegetable garden.
Yes, the vege production is in high gear and I am struggling to keep up. Mainly, we are drowning in tomatoes. Cherokee Purples, German Johnsons, Pink Brandywines, Watermelon Beefsteaks, Mortgage Lifters, Big Boys, Early Girls, Heatmasters and Sun Golds are filling up my kitchen (and my neighbors’ kitchens) every evening. As I haul in the day’s basket loads, I often wonder whether I planted too many tomatoes this year… but variety is the spice of life, right? How could I choose between the bright tang of a Sun Gold and the deep rich Cherokee Purple? I can’t! I just can’t.
So, in order to make use of our huge glut and to keep from using any heat in my kitchen (nothing like sweating through dinner), I’m going to make a lovely chilled Spanish Gazpacho Soup and serve it alongside a tangy Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese.
Some people prefer a chunky Gazpacho with crunchy vegetables in each bite, but I prefer a smooth, velvety version blended with lots of delicious, quality olive oil to balance the bright, acidic flavors in this chilled soup. If you are partial to crunchiness, just blend the soup a little less than I do so that it’s mostly blended but with lovely vegetable chunks still visible.
1 purple onion, finely chopped
3-6 cloves garlic (6, if you’re a garlic head like me)
2 medium cucumbers, peeled (I used the Armenian variety from my garden)
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
Juice of 1/2 a lemon (Fresh only — it really makes a difference)
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
4 Tbsp first cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil (I’m using California Olive Ranch)
3-5 Tbsp each, finely chopped fresh cilantro and basil (I love fresh herbs and tend to use a lot if I have them on hand. Herbs are an easy source of antioxidants)
2 Tbsp finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (or just slightly less than the cilantro and basil)
A few drops of Frank’s Original Hot Sauce (More if you dare…)
1 can V-8 or tomato juice (optional for a soupier soup)
Pepper (I prefer freshly ground just about every time)
I have included a link above showing how to seed a tomato, but basically just chop it half and give it a squeeze to get most of the seeds out. Other Gazpacho recipes recommend peeling your tomatoes, but I don’t bother with it since I thoroughly blend everything. The little pieces of tomato skins make for a nice texture in the otherwise smooth soup, but by all means, peel your tomatoes if you don’t like the skins.
Finely chop the tomatoes, onion, garlic, cucumbers, peppers and herbs and toss into a large, non-reactive bowl (glass, ceramic or stainless steel). Pour over the lemon juice, vinegar and olive oil, Frank’s and V-8, then use a hand blender to methodically purée all of the ingredients until smooth, or blend in batches in a regular blender.
Once your Gazpacho is blended to your liking, it’s time to taste it and adjust the seasoning. Don’t be intimidated by this step! It’s good to practice using your palate to season food to your liking. Consider your first taste. Does it taste bright and acidic? Sweet? A little too dull? Don’t reach for the salt right away, though it’s likely you’ll need quite a bit of salt to amplify and balance the sweetness of all those vegetables. Lemon juice is an excellent flavor brightener, and a lot of the time, people reach for salt when they really need a little more acid to bring life to their dishes. So slowly add salt, but also add a little lemon juice and see how you get on– slowly because you can’t remove the salt once it’s there!
Once your seasoning is to your liking, consider adding a little more of your high quality, fruity olive oil to soften the flavor and texture, and top with some freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan.