It’s taken a little bit of mental gymnastics for me to accept that a soup can be refreshing and reviving: for so long, for me, soup was a bowl of comfort, an edible hot water bottle, the mere thought of which saw me seeking out root vegetables and warming spices, or bones that had been roasted long and slow. Soup was categorically a preserve of the coldest months, one to bring succour and cosiness. I couldn’t see the appeal of those icy bowls, the antithesis of what I understood soup to be; the very idea of gazpacho, ajoblanco, salmorejo or vichyssoise left me cold.
But this soup is a revelation, and I am now a fully paid up convert. Gazpacho is a cold tomato soup hailing from Spain, and this particular version – the most famous, I think it’s fair to say – is Andalusian, a peasant dish that seeks to make the best out of very little, taking the ripest vegetables available, spiking them with garlic, and smoothing them with oil and, often, bread. It’s no surprise that these cold soup dishes tend to come from hot countries, dishes designed to cool and calm, to temper spirits and ease the soul when the heat is rising, and Andalusian gazpacho does not disappoint.
In Britain, gazpacho is an alumnus of the school of fine dining, and you may feel like cold soups, served in shot glasses in restaurants that held themselves in too high esteem, have had their time in the sun; you would probably be right. But that’s not how this dish shines: it should be served in deep bowls, poured over an ice cube or two, and eaten slowly, relished.
It’s quick and easy, requiring no cooking, just a bit of chopping, squishing, and blitzing. It’s cut through with cool, calming cucumber, and spiked with sherry vinegar (although if you don’t have this, a splash of actual sherry would be delightful); a generous addition of punchy, raw garlic ensures you won’t fall victim to any vampires after a bowlful and also gives the soup its high notes. I add green pepper for the slightest bitterness, whereas the bread smooths out the soup, giving it a body and a silkiness that means you don’t feel like you’re just eating a jar of passata with a spoon.
It goes like this:
Makes: Serves 4
Takes: 15 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
600g fat, ripe tomatoes
2 cloves of garlic
50ml extra virgin olive oil
20ml sherry vinegar
1 green pepper
200g stale white bread
Extra oil and vinegar for drizzling
1.First, skin and deseed the tomatoes. Do this by cutting a shallow cross into the base of each tomato and then submerging them in just boiled water for 30 seconds. Drain the tomatoes and as soon as they’re cool enough to handle, peel off the skin which will now slip off easily. Quarter the tomatoes and scoop out the seeds. Place the tomatoes in a large bowl, making sure to sweep any wayward juice into the bowl too.
2.Tear the bread into thumb sized pieces and add to the bowl, along with the oil and vinegar. Leave for ten minutes.
3. Meanwhile, peel the garlic cloves and add to the food processor along with the chopped cucumber and green pepper. Whizz in the processor until the mixture is smooth and even. Taste the soup and season accordingly: it will probably need a good sprinkling of salt, and a very generous grinding of black pepper.
4.Refrigerate for at least an hour, or until you’re ready to serve.
5. Place an ice cube in the base of each bowl and lade the soup over it to serve. Drizzle with extra olive oil and sherry vinegar, and garnish with baby mint and basil leaves, if you wish.