Two “Spanish” dishes in a row? well, actually my favorite go-to gazpacho recipe is not from a Spanish book. It’s from David Leite’s lovely The New Portuguese table cookbook. So, let’s say this is Portuguese. As a blueprint it is very much like a typical Spanish gazpacho; tomato based with supporting summer vegetables, herbs and plenty of olive oil. It is all held together and made velvety with a few chunks of bread.
I like this recipe even though it is similar to many others because of the balance it shows. For example it does not use raw onions in the mix like many others do. Onions, even in small amounts, always seem to stick out for my taste and leave an unpleasant after taste. I like that it uses fresh oregano in the mix, it’s lovely. The proportions of everything is just right too. So, I add all ingredients into my Vitamix blender -tomatoes, water-soaked bread, cucumbers, red bell peppers, oregano, little bit of garlic- and let it rip until it is all nice and smooth.
Towards the end I drizzle in olive oil and vinegar and let is blend some more. I also love this recipe because it gives you permission to use canned tomatoes! Yes, most gazpacho recipes ask for peak summer tomatoes preferably of an heirloom variety. Truth be told these things are amazing fruit, but they are almost like unicorns where I live and with my schedule. Sighting one and acquiring it is very difficult out there. Once you find them they are usually pretty expensive and because they are not bred for travel the quality is not great. All that is to say that it really is OK to use canned good quality canned tomatoes. The key here is the good quality stuff like the San Marzano imported tomatoes. So, cheap here will not work.
I make a pitcher and enjoy it over a couple of days since no one in my household enjoys “cold tomato soup”. For a lazy Sunday I dressed it up a bit and made it a brunch course of sorts. I poached an egg perfectly and cleanly placed it in the bowl along with bacon pieces, bacon-fat crisped croutons and pickled onions. I poured the gazpacho around it, drizzled it with good olive oil, garnished it with more croutons and thyme and dug in. The simple refreshing soup, the contrast of textures and temperatures transformed the humble cold soup to an elegant satisfying meal.
For the past few weeks, every Thursday, a farmers’ market have been setup in the plaza center right next to my office. I did not honestly expect much but was pleasantly surprised. A couple of vendors are selling fresh eggs, there several with good summer vegetables, a very good bread stand, several prepared food and “treats’ vendors. We also got artisan sausages, bacon and all kinds of goat milk products, like an excellent fresh cheese.
This here is a fresh tomato salad, topped with tangy goat cheese (from Swede Farm). We ate that for dinner with crusty baguettes.
The following week we had a chicken salad with tomato vinaigrette, salad greens, whole grain bread croutons and sweet small tomatoes that according to the vendor are called Chocolate Cherry Tomatoes.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. Few ingredients are better when combined. I love to make this salad with the best tomatoes I can find. I toss them with a dressing made with excellent quality olive oil (a Sicilian one in this case), very little minced garlic, salt and pepper. The key is, if you have the time, to let the tomato salad rest, for 15-30 minutes. This draws some of the juice out of the tomato and blends with the dressing.
The basil is added next and mixed in. Then I arrange the tomatoes on a platter, tear off pieces of milky fresh mozzarella and scatter them on top. A bit of salad greens go on top. Arugula is especially good. I drizzle the mixture with the rest of the dressing and serve it with grilled or toasted rustic bread.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
One of the few cold “soups” I enjoy a lot is Gazpacho. I put quotes around the word soup because this refreshing summer treat is more like a beverage. It is best poured in a tall glass and chugged. On the other hand, Gazpacho is quiet filling and makes for a more than decent meal, probably because of the bread in the mix.
It is of course very simple to make. Some stale bread soaked in water, tomatoes, cucumber, a bell pepper, garlic and oregano. It is all a matter of taste when it comes to this primarily Spanish dish. Some recipes include onions in there (not to my taste at all), neither is cumin, others include basil (makes it taste like marinara sauce if you ask me). I like some fresh oregano and I like to finish it off with sherry vinegar and a good dose of black pepper. The whole lot is pureed in a blender or a stick blender. The last step, while it might seem unnecessary is to pass the Gazpacho through a sieve to obtain a smooth uniform soup. This really makes a difference.
To serve it, you can go the fancy way and pour the Gazpacho in a bowl and top it with tiny dice of cucumber, minced hard-boiled eggs, slivers of Jamon Serrano, tomato cubes, finely chopped herbs, very very small croutons, a drizzle of olive oil, herb oil…the variations are endless. On the other hand, more often than not, I keep the pitcher in the fridge, pour me a glass and call it dinner or lunch.
Sorry, no pic of the final result. I forgot. Really though, it is nothing more than tomato soup in a tall glass.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I love a good steak or pork chop (or chicken or ribs for that matter) cooked over natural wood charcoal as much as the next guy. Let’s face it, the reason we light up our grills is to cook meat. It is the ultimate pleasure that hot charcoal can provide. However, with some creativity and little effort one can make a very tasty vegetarian meal on the grill.
This Sunday, in addition to putting a few chicken legs on the grill for the kids, I prepared a few dishes for Diana and I with no meat. From Mario Batali’s “Italian Grill” I made the marinated zucchini with homemade ricotta. The vegetable is sliced thin on a mandolin and marinated it with some herbs, oil and vinegar. After grilling, some more marinade is poured on top, in addition to chopped mint leaves. It is served with ricotta mixed with olive oil and with slices of grilled rustic bread. This a delicious mix of flavors and textures.
Another dish was something improvised, a sort of potato and green bean salad. I ‘steamed’ the green beans in aluminum foil with lemon slices and a bit of white wine. The packet was placed right on the grill. I grilled the potatoes directly on the grill and I also wrapped a few garlic cloves in foil and put them straight on the coals to roast. I made a dressing using those garlic cloves after mashing them. I mixed them with olive oil and lemon juice. I sliced the potatoes and tossed everything together. Not bad at all.
Last but not least was a cherry tomato and basil salad. Nothing more than tasty tomatoes, olive oil, torn basil, salt and pepper.