Food & Drink

Harvest those vegetables from your garden and make gazpacho

Gazpacho is loaded with natural sugars, garlic, vitamins and a little salt - it's the original energy drink with electro
Gazpacho is loaded with natural sugars, garlic, vitamins and a little salt — it’s the original energy drink with electrolytes. (Joshua Tibbetts photos)
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Here we are in the dead heat of summer, and those Victory Gardens are bursting with life. Leafy herbs like basil and parsley are flush. Tomatoes, bell peppers and cucumbers are coming into fruit faster than you can pick them. Stone fruit like peaches and apricots are juicy and falling off the trees. Pickling and canning season is in full swing, but it’s also the perfect storm for my favorite summer treat: Gazpacho.

Gazpacho is a cold soup — some folks even call it a wet salad. It doesn’t neatly fit in with the sort of menu categories that we normally think of. Is it an appetizer or a main course? Well, both. Is it a vegetable side? Could be, if you feel like it.

What we do know is that it’s pure magic to beat the heat, and that’s what it was designed to do. The origins of gazpacho stretch back to the ancient Roman Empire, and their reach into the Iberian peninsula. Andalusia, the southern region of what is now Spain, is hot and dry in the summer — 300 days of clear sunny skies every year.

The Roman Legionnaires doubled as a labor force when they weren’t actively fighting a battle. Building paved roads through that dry heat took a toll on the men at work. Exhaustion and dehydration were a serious logistical challenge. The solution was gazpacho. Originally a sort of power drink, it was made with bread, water, lots of garlic, parsley, olive oil and a bit of vinegar. Sort of a drinkable bruschetta that preserved well in the heat. It fixed the dehydration issue. It’s got electrolytes.

A few years down that road, a couple millennia really, the flavors of the Americas were conquering Mediterranean cuisines. By the 19th century, gazpacho ran red with tomatoes. It evolved into a bowl of fresh garden vegetables swimming in a thickened tomato juice. Loaded with natural sugars, garlic, vitamins and a little salt, it’s the original energy drink. It’s got electrolytes.

This is an incredibly simple recipe to put together. All you really need is a knife, a blender and all the August vegetables and fruits you can muster. Like a salad, it’s meant to be eaten cold and raw. Like a soup, the flavor improves overnight in the fridge. The flavors marry together, becoming a meta flavor that is more than the sum of it’s parts.

There are many regional and personal variations on gazpacho. The basics for most of them these days are a puree of tomatoes, olive oil and garlic, with chunks of cucumber and other fruits and vegetables. Some folk still put the bread in it to thicken up a bit, personally I prefer to serve toasted or grilled bread on the side instead. A fun garlic toast trick is to grill the bread dry, then rub it with a raw garlic clove. The garlic disintegrates right onto the toast. Drizzle a little olive oil on too and you’re good to go.

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I like to get a little extra creative and add avocados and peaches. I also like to serve it with a dollop of sour cream and let it blend in as I eat it. I love how the fresh, bright flavors slowly transform and become more savory as the sour cream enters the fray.

Another extra is to reserve some of the chunky parts until you are ready to eat, so they don’t get soggy. Firmer vegetables like onions and bell peppers want to marry into the soup, but peaches and avocados will lose their shape and go soft. Besides, I like to have those little distinct flavors punching in through that big Voltron meta flavor.

I’m sitting here sipping on a Bloody Mary as I write, and it’s got me wondering. The savory meta flavor of the tomatoes; the contrasting textures and flavors of the pickled stuff in the garnishes. Do Gazpacho and Bloody Mary share a common ancestry? Perhaps they were Hapsburgs. But that, my friends, is a rabbit hole to fall into some other day.

Chef Tibbs, also known as Joshua “Tibbs” Tibbetts, is a Cedar Rapids native who has been cooking as a professional chef for 28 years. He now is in the banquet kitchen at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex.

Gazpacho

Serves 4, as entree/ Makes 2 quarts

The “Wedding”:

• 1 3/4 to 2 pounds of large, ripe tomatoes, heirlooms or big red beefsteak tomatoes are best

• 1 medium-size cucumber (1/2 to 3/4 pound)

• 4 gloves garlic (1/2 bulb), more or less, to your preference

• 1 large sweet bell pepper, red, or a fun color like purple or yellow

• 1/4 medium-size red onion (optional)

1 jalapeno or serrano (optional, some like it hot)

• 1 tablespoon olive oil

• 1 teaspoon salt

The Garnish:

• 1 Hass avocado

• 1 peach

• Half a pint cherry tomatoes

• 4 stems scallions

• 1/2 package basil or Italian parsley (1/2 ounce)

• Sour cream (optional)

• Baguette for garlic bread (optional)

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For the Wedding: Start with the garlic. Peel the skins off the garlic cloves. Get a good whiff of them. If they smell very sharp and strong, maybe use less than you think you should. Crush the garlic cloves with the side of your knife. Crushing them wakes up the flavor, gives it more of a zing. If you have a mortar and pestle, put the salt and garlic together and grind it into a paste.

Transfer the garlic and salt to the blender or food processor. Add the oil, and fully puree it together until smooth.

Chop your tomatoes and add them to the bowl of the blender.

Peel your cucumber and toss the peels in the compost. Cut it in half the long way. Using a small spoon, scoop the seed cores into the blender with the tomatoes and garlic.

Blend these together until smooth. You can strain it if you’d like a finer texture. Pour the mix into a 3-quart bowl or fridge container.

Chop the rest of the cucumber into small dice and add it to the bowl with the puree. Do the same with the bell pepper and the quarter of an onion. If you want to get extra, you can rinse the dice under hot tap water to take the sharpness out of them.

Slice the hot chili in half and discard the seeds. Mince up the hot chili very small and add them to the bowl, if you are using them.

If you have the time, cover the bowl and let it rest in the fridge overnight to fully develop the flavor.

For the garnish: Cut the peach in half and remove the pit. Dice the peach. Gambling dice is a nice size for peaches, they don’t pack enough of a punch if they are smaller than that. Reserve dice on a plate.

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Cut the avocado into halves and remove the pit. Score dice into the halves with a butter knife, then scoop them out with a spoon. Reserve avocado dice on a plate.

Pluck whole leaves of your herbs and arrange on garnish plate.

Slice the green part of scallions and reserve on plate.

Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and arrange on the plate.

If serving with garlic toast: slice it on a diagonal into nice fat slices, at least an inch thick. Toast or grill the bread until you get nice brown or black marks on them. Peel a garlic clove and rub one side of each slice. The garlic will shred itself directly on the toast. drizzle a little olive oil on to the side you rubbed the garlic on.

Distribute the “wedding” puree into four bowls.

Sprinkle a very light dusting of salt on top of the avocados and cherry tomatoes on your plate of garnishes. Evenly distribute the garnishes into each bowl. The sour cream and herbs go on last so they float on top. If you want, you can let each person scoop their own garnishes on at the table. It’s fun to play with your food!

Source: Joshua Tibbetts

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