Sunday, August 20, 2006

Are You Kidding? Pre-Columbian Gazpacho?

While it’s still summer and tomatoes are at their peak, it seems subversive, if not just silly, to talk about a white gazpacho. But the concoction from southern Spain we know as gazpacho, now rich with tomatoes and peppers like a liquefied salad, actually goes back to the old Spain, Moorish-Arab Spain. And guess what, Columbus was not yet born and the “new” world was unknown to the old world, and with it were also unknown the plants of the new world, like tomatoes and peppers and corn and potatoes and beans and squash and chilies and peanuts and chocolate and vanilla and tobacco. (How did the old Europeans survive?) Modern gazpacho is derived from a basically Arab soup pureed with a mortar and pestle from almonds, water, olive oil, and seasonings, and thickened with stale bread.

A type of cold white gazpacho has had a novelty mini-revival as “ajo blanco” (“white garlic”) and has even been discussed by Martha Stewart. The recipes I’ve seen include ground almonds, bread, garlic, olive oil, and lemon juice, topped for some reason with green grapes. (Sort of cries out for a little vodka or gin, doesn’t it?) But who knows what the “original” gazpacho was like, and in the absence then of written recipes (at least that I can find) and in the presence of oral tradition, there were probably many variations for that pre-tomato and bell pepper soup.

The lack of an authoritative method is hardly a deterrent, and indeed for me is permissive, from trying to recreate what might have been. Hey, who can say I’m wrong? Based on ingredients that would have been available in southern Europe and north Africa before Columbus, and informed by some of the ways gazpacho is now made (but without the Prozac they put in in the Spanish film classic “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown”), and finally just using what I pictured as tasty, here is a recipe for a bracing cold summer soup. (Martha, eat your heart out!) Parsley, used for an optional garnish, is very common in Spain, and cilantro (coriander leaf), the other option, is an ancient herb in the Mediterranean, used since the time of building the great pyramids.

White Gazpacho Tim
Put in a food processor and grind finely 1/2 cup blanched almonds (such as slivered). Add 1 medium-large clove garlic, 1/2 a small onion, 1/2 stalk celery, 4 medium cucumbers – peeled, halved, and seed cavities scooped out, 6 slices stale white bread (such as Italian) with crusts removed, 6 to 7 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1-1/4 cups water, 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt. Liquefy in the processor. Add 1 cup crushed ice and blend again. Taste, and add salt and lemon juice, if needed. Chill in the refrigerator for the flavors to mellow. To serve, stir, taste for salt and add if necessary, pour into bowls or glasses (sometimes wine glasses for gazpacho in Spain!) and top with a little freshly chopped parsley or cilantro and a drizzle of olive oil.

Tim

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