The passionate cooking style of the Mediterranean is a favourite of mine. There’s something about the rustic, yet refined combinations of fresh ingredients that speaks to a certain pace of life and spirit of people. I admire the gusto of Mediterranean cooking, but more than the gusto, I appreciate the restraint. I appreciate how almost limitless the palate is and how carefully both its most prominent and most humble dishes unfold. What may seem like a simple, even one dimensional dish is undoubtedly a triumph of well constructed flavours, textures and temperatures.
I have been trying for awhile now to cook with some restraint. This is not to say that I don’t still experiment at almost any chance I get, but I have learned to more carefully consider combinations of flavours and textures and make each choice more meaningful so that every part of a dish makes sense. That is a hard thing to do when you are an excitable cook and you want to toss things together and throw caution to the wind. I feel as though this gazpacho is an exercise in such restraint. How I wanted to toss in some anchovy, some hot chilies, olives, capers, and just pack this quiet soup with a cacophony of flavours. But I held back. I tasted carefully, building the flavours in a sensible manner and paying attention to that ever-needed balance of sweet, sour, and salt. I did take one major liberty: I did not thicken the soup with bread, as is traditional. I have never found that this gazpacho needs thickening. In fact, it often needs some dilution, either with water or wine to bring it to a pleasant, soup-like consistency. Is it wholly traditional? No, but it has a magically cooling essence to it and makes a delightful starter to a summer supper. In fact, you can skip the salad, since this is essentially salad in liquid form.
Roasted Vegetable Gazpacho
makes enough for 6
6 ripe tomatoes
3 bell peppers, halved and seeded
1 small red onion, peeled
3 cloves of garlic
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 English cucumber, cut into small chunks
1/4 C fresh parsley leaves
1/4 C fresh basil leaves
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Grill or roast the tomatoes, peppers, onion and garlic. Once they are charred and blistered, set them in a bowl and cover with cling wrap to seal. Leave them for 10 minutes to sweat and cool slightly. While still warm, pull off the skins and discard. With the tomatoes, remove as much of the seeds as possible. Now your roasted vegetables are ready to be used.
Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender and whiz them until smooth. If using a blender be careful — hot liquids will build up steam pressure, so take care when removing the lid.
Taste the gazpacho, check for seasoning. if it seems too thick, continue to blend it, adding water a few teaspoons at a time until it reaches your desired consistency. Allow to cool significantly before refrigerating. Serve cold with bread for dunking.