The outdoor markets have been in a slump for several weeks, with no connection to the wartime blues. The stall owners are a bit drowsy and the vegetables, fruits and herbs are wilting in the terrible heat. This results in a similar mood in the kitchen, which gravitates, at a slow pace, toward cold foods that are easy to prepare. Cold soups are a wonderful example of such foods: simple to make, refreshing and oh-so-tasty.
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The best known of these soups may be Andalusian gazpacho, which keeps Spain’s inhabitants cool during the sultry summer months. Its ingredients include old bread, ripe tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and sherry vinegar made near the Spanish city of Jerez. This excellent and delicate vinegar, which is the secret of the gazpacho’s flavor, is aged in oak barrels. It has a deep, rich flavor and a delicate aroma.
Few people know that gazpacho started out as a hot soup without tomatoes: It contained garlic, stale bread, olive oil and vinegar. The stale bread, no longer edible, was soaked in water for several hours, squeezed, and crushed with a mortar and pestle together with the rest of the ingredients. The result was a thick, filling and comforting soup. Traces of that old-time gazpacho can still be found in Spanish workers’ restaurants under the name Ajo blanco, which is sometimes served with blanched almonds or green grapes.
A similar recipe for gazpacho, but cold and somewhat diluted, was presented to the French by Eugenie de Montijo, a Spanish aristocrat and the wife of Napoleon III. It was served in chilled glass pitchers and poured into delicate glass cups at summer parties in the royal gardens. The French fell in love with it, and in their elegant way refined the recipe a little, but zealously preserved the spicy character imparted by the garlic and sherry vinegar.
The version we know today, which includes tomatoes, was developed years later when tomatoes arrived in Europe, and it is served with hard-boiled egg, cucumber, Bermuda onion, chili, croutons and ground black pepper.
May be served with tiny cubes of hard-boiled egg, cucumber, Bermuda onion, red pepper and croutons. I like to serve it smooth and without additions — just a little chili and coarsely ground black pepper.
Makes 10 portions
1 kilo ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
2 thick slices of white bread or challah without the crust, soaked in water for 2 hours and then squeezed well
2 small garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon fine salt
2 cups ice cubes
For serving: coarsely ground black pepper, finely chopped red chili pepper, croutons
In a food processor or blender, grind the bread, tomatoes, garlic and salt. Pour the oil and vinegar into the mixture and blend well for five to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; add the ice cubes and chill for two to three hours. Serve very cold on a very hot day, with the vegetables and croutons at the center of the table.
Cold zucchini and almond soup
This is one of my favorites. It is easy to prepare, thirst-quenching and surprising in its wonderful flavors.
Makes six to eight portions
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 or 6 small zucchinis (350 grams), washed and sliced into rings
Pinch of salt and pepper
Thick slice of white bread or challah without the crust, soaked in water for 2 hours and then squeezed well
Handful of spearmint leaves, washed
1 tablespoon blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/3 cup cold water
4 tablespoons thick yogurt
8 ice cubes
For serving: coarsely ground black pepper, chopped spearmint leaves
Heat the oven to 230 degrees Celsius. Line a baking pan with baking paper and place the zucchini slices upon it. Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over the zucchini; roast in the top part of the oven for 10 minutes or until well browned. Remove from oven and chill.
Transfer the following to a food processor or blender: the zucchini, the soaked and squeezed slice of bread or hallah, spearmint leaves, almonds, salt, lemon juice, water and yogurt. Blend to a smooth puree. Transfer to a bowl, add ice cubes, cover with sheet of cling-wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
Stir and check the flavor, and serve with coarsely ground black pepper and spearmint leaves.