I have fond memories of sitting outside the Mezquita in Cordoba, one of the architectural wonders of the world, and eating a bowl of traditional gazpacho, the fragrant, cooling cold tomato soup that is ideal for summer days. I have an equally fond memory of sitting outside the entrance to the Alhambra in Granada, one of the architectural wonders of the world, and eating another bowl of gazpacho. And another in Seville. And so on. Yes, you could trace my path through southern Spain with bowls of gazpacho, its creamier cousin, salmorejo, and patas bravas and pimientos del padron. Gazpacho is transformative, an Andalusian relative of Proust’s tea-dipped madeleine. But, of course, I’d never before tried to make it.
THE ANDALUSIAN GAZPACHO
Andalusia, in the south of Spain, retains a rich inheritance from its many centuries as an Islamic stronghold, and its cuisine is the better for it. Like so many of the best dishes, it is simple, but offers up many opportunities for variation, both traditional and avant-garde. At its most basic, Andalusian gazpacho is a cold soup of tomato, onion, garlic, olive oil, water, salt, cucumber, bell pepper and stale bread. That’s it. Puree the solid ingredients, then add the liquids and salt to taste and blend. If you’re a purist, you can smash the ingredients together with a mortar and pestle, but a food processor or immersion blender will do (as long as you don’t mind the foam and uniform smoothness that accompany mechanized blending). Gazpacho can be more fun to eat with an assortment of add-ins served on the side: chopped ham, chopped hard–boiled eggs (these two traditionally top salmorejo, a Cordoba-specific alternative version of gazpacho), almonds, orange, mint, and more.
GAZPACHO OR SALMOREJO?
I must confess that I actually enjoy salmorejo more than gazpacho. It feels like more of a meal, because it contains more bread (meaning that it is also a peachier colour, rather than tomato red), whereas gazpacho almost feels like a drink. The “meatier’ mix-ins that accompany salmorejo – egg, ham and sometimes even tuna – also make it more filling, whereas gazpacho is necessarily an appetiser or side, rather than a main. There is also Ajoblanco, a version that amps up the “white garlic” of its name, popular in Malaga and Granada, which includes almonds. Arranque roteno uses very little water, so is more of a creamy soup than a thirst-quencher. In Extremadura, cojondongo is likewise a thicker rendition of the main dish, with the addition of chopped onions and vinegar. In the province of Avila, chunks of vegetables float in the vegetable puree. The only not-really-proper gazpacho that nevertheless bears the name is Gazpacho manchego, which is from La Mancha, and is actually a meat stew. Any of the other variants are acceptable as the real thing.
GAZPACHO: A DEFINITION
Gazpacho’s origins are murky, even its name. It sounds Arabic, and it certainly could be. The Hebrew, gazaz, means to “break into little pieces,” which is appropriate enough, but so is the Latin word caspa, which likewise means “little pieces.” As we have seen in this series, etymology of food names is an inexact science. Roman soldiers used to carry dry bread, garlic and vinegar with which to prepare meals on the march, and so a tomato-less version might be the predecessor. Tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers, key ingredients, are all indigenous to the Americas, so they could only have entered the recipe from the 16th century on.
Of all the dishes I’ve made for the Cooking the Classics series, this is one of the easiest. Especially with modern blenders, you can’t go wrong. I intentionally complicated a bit, by making gazpacho, salmorejo and ajoblanco, to have a taste test. The only difference is the ratio of tomato to bread (gazpacho is mostly tomato, salmorejo is more bread, and ajoblanco has no tomato, but almonds instead). This makes for a great party food, because the cold soups can be made in advance and wait in the fridge. You can chop up the fun mix-ins and place them in small bowls, and let people do their own taste test. Me? I’m still a salmorejo man, but it’ll never be quite as good as it tastes under the hot Cordoban sun, a few steps from the Mezquita. A popular Spanish saying goes De gazpacho no hay empacho: 'you can never have too much of a good thing' … or too much gazpacho. So when the weather turns hot, cool down, Andalusian style.