What’s the most refreshing chilled soup for a scorching summer day? Even if you hadn’t been primed by the headline, I’d bet my tomatoes that your answer is gazpacho.
And if it isn’t, it ought to be. Gazpacho is cool, delicious, and invigorating, and you don’t have to even approach the oven to make it. All you’ll need are a handful of ripe tomatoes, green peppers, garlic, a hunk of yesterday’s bread, and a generous splash of your favorite olive oil and vinegar. Purée everything in a food processor (or a blender, or use a cutting board and chop by hand), chill, and then ladle yourself a bowlful. Gazpacho is my summer tonic. It’s exactly what I want—sometimes the only thing I want—when the weather has me wilting.
A diverse family of Spanish soups
Actually, my favorite chilled summer soup is just one member of a large, loosely knit Spanish family of soups (including some that incorporate meat or fish and are served hot, but that’s for another time). Of the cool versions, there are essentially three types: red, white, and green gazpacho. Each one starts with the same fundamental ingredients— bread, olive oil, vinegar, and garlic—but the addition of another element or two sends it trotting off in its own direction.
Tomatoes are the main ingredient in red gazpacho, with green or red bell peppers, cucumbers, and onions either puréed in as well or else scattered on top of the finished soup. White gazpachos, which are actually rather ivory in color, contain ground almonds, or perhaps pine nuts or even lima beans, and they’re often garnished with grapes. It sounds a little strange, but once you try my delicate yet vibrant version, you’ll start craving it. Green gazpachos contain fresh herbs and perhaps some shredded lettuce, but they’re not very common, even in Spain.
First-rate vegetables produce vibrant flavor
"When I get my hands on home-grown tomatoes, I know I'm in for heavenly gazpacho," says Leslie Revsin.
Some soups can recover from less-than-ideal ingredients, but gazpacho can’t. The vegetables in gazpacho are generally raw and naked—there’s no slow simmering to coax out sweetness and no cream or butter to mask flavor imperfections—so the soup they produce will reflect their freshness and quality.
So you can bet I’m vigilant about picking the ripest, juiciest tomatoes, the crispest cucumbers and peppers, and the greenest, liveliest herbs when I’m making gazpacho. I happily use one of my best extra-virgin olive oils. And I’ll often use an authentic Spanish sherry vinegar (the traditional choice), though I might substitute red- or white-wine vinegar, or even lemon juice, depending on the version I’m making.
The only ingredient that doesn’t have to be fresh is the bread. Day-old or older bread is actually better. I prefer a baguette or country-style loaf with lots of taste and character, with the crusts trimmed if they’re especially thick or hard. You could also use unseasoned, fresh, homemade breadcrumbs.