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Gazpacho: Liquid Salad (RECIPE)

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My restaurant has a Spanish tilt to it. I can't quite say "theme" because the menu is far from all Spanish, but we focus on tapas and serve paella and sangria and the usual suspects from the Spanish food world. This time of year, that mandates Gazpacho.

Some of the best dishes in the world were invented via that great mother, necessity: the necessity to get by on very little, or to make use of a soon-to-spoil abundance. Witness cassoulet, prosciutto, gumbo, quiche, bouillabaisse, pesto, etc. Gazpacho falls on the abundance side of that equation, as it makes use of just about everything that is ripe and abundant in Devotay's gardens right now.

Gazpacho originated in Andalusia, the southern part of Spain that includes Gibraltar. The soup most Americans know is probably not the original. When most of Spain was part of the Moorish empire, they developed an ancestor of the now-familiar gazpacho made of garlic, almonds, bread, olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Now called Ajo Blanco this was the go-to cold soup in Spain until Columbus returned with from the new world with the curious nightshade, the tomato, one of many new world foods destined to revolutionize world cuisine.

Today's most common version contains two new world foods, the tomato and the pepper. The ultimate summer soup, gazpacho also makes an interesting drink when used like a Blood Mary mix (omit the bread from the recipe below for that).

Iowa is renowned for it's ungodly hot and humid weather in August (heat index 101f, humidity hovering in the lower 90 percent range as I type), and even though we've seen a wet summer thus far, the gazpacho still sells well. We get a lot of vegetarian guests since the menu is about 65% veggie, and this dish is even perfect for the stricter vegans simply by leaving out the chopped egg garnish.

GAZPACHO ANDALUZ

Andalusia is the region of Spain where Jerez, the home of sherry, is located. Sherry is a nice accompaniment to Spain's most famous soup. Look for a sherry called "Amontillado," which refers to the medium-dry character of the wine. I like the Gomez or Wisdom & Werter brands.

3 pounds tomatoes -- peeled, seeded and diced (see below)
1 onion diced
2 green peppers cored and diced
2 roasted red peppers
4 cloves garlic
4 slices day-old bread, cubed, crusts removed
2 1/2 cups tomato juice
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste, at service
Ice cubes
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, minced
1 onion, minced
2 hard-boiled eggs, minced
2 cups croutons

To peel the tomatoes, use a sharp knife to make an X on the bottom. Plunge them into boiling, salted water for 30 to 45 seconds, or until the skin becomes loose. Immediately "shock" them by placing them in ice water. When they are cool enough to handle (usually just a minute) use the knife to peel the loosened skins away. To seed the tomatoes, cut them in half along the equator and gently squeeze the seeds into a strainer over the sink. Rinse and dry the seeds and save them for next year's garden.

Once this is done, puree the tomatoes in a blender or food processor along with the onion, peppers, garlic, bread, tomato juice, olive oil and vinegar. You may need to do this in bartches. Season to taste with salt and fresh cracked black pepper, then serve, garnished with an ice cube, pinches of the minced peppers and eggs, and a few croutons.

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