Almost overnight gazpacho, the salad-soup of Spain, has become an American food fashion. Yet whether gazpacho is really a soup at all is open to question. And in the southern provinces of Spain itself this wonderfully refreshing summer iced soup was scarcely known until recent years.
Gazpacho had its international following long ago, however. When thumbing through a copy of Mrs. Mary Randolph’s The Virginia Housewife, one of the first American cookbooks, published originally in 1824, I came across a recipe for Spanish gazpacho made much as we make it today. And in 1840, the French writer Theophile Gautier wrote about having gazpacho during a trip through southern Spain. He asserted it would “have made the hair of Brillat-Savarin stand on end,” though he concluded, “Strange as it may seem the first time one tastes it, one ends by getting used to it and even liking it.”
Like most very old dishes, gazpacho recipes are multitudinous and each one different.
The peasant way of making gazpacho, everyone seems to agree, is to mash the tomatoes and other ingredients patiently and tirelessly in a huge wooden bowl, using a wooden pestle. This, for example, is a peasant recipe for gazpacho sevillano:
“You must have a large wooden bowl, made from the trunk of a tree, gently hollowed in the center. In this bowl place some salt, quite a lot of garlic, and a little green pepper. With a pestle, pound thoroughly until the mixture is a smooth paste. Then add stale bread which has been grated iunto crumbs—the bread should be five or six days old. Pound the crumbs gradually into the vegetable mixture until again you have a smooth paste. Then you begin adding nice ripe tomatoes which have been peeled and seeded, and continue pounding and mashing until the mixrure is thin, without any lumps. To this you add the yolk of a hard-cokked egg, blend thoroughly, and strir in olive oil—plenty of olive oil. Finally you add a little vinegar and enough water to make it the right consistency.”
In Jerez, Anne Williams de Domecq (whose husband is director of the Williams and Humbert bodegas) told me that gazpacho andaluz should always be made with sherry vinegar. Jean Dalrymple of the New York City Center, who spent some twenty summers in the Valencia area of Spain when Jose Iturbi was one of her clients, learned to make a gazpacho valenciana from Senora Iturbi. Her version, Miss Dalrymnple says, always included a pinch of cumin—a most important addition—along wth garlic, fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and vinegar, and croutons of bread fried in olive oil served over the top as garnish.
In old cookbooks I found other gazpacho recipes which called for such diverse ingredients as toasted almonds, black and/or green olives, chicken broth instead of water, and even red wine. Minced cucumber or onions are very often served floating over the top. Pimientos or paprika in large amounts very frequently will be added. Sometimes other vegetables are pureed along with the tomatoes. There was even in one Spanish book a recipe for “gazpacho colorado” (literally red gazpacho), which turned out to be thick hot puree served with big chunhks of bread.
In all these different versions, four ingredients appear without fail: tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar. The tomatoes must be fresh and sweet, preferably picked from the vine while still warm with the sun and rushed to the kitchen to be scalded, skins peeled off and the seeds extacted at once. In order to make a perfect gazpacho, the tomato seeds should be removed., for these do add a certain bitterness if left in. After the tomatoes have been pureed, they can be forced through a sieve to get rid of the seeds. For those who do not have kitchen gardens, or who wish to make gazpacho before the local tomato season has reached its peak, it is best to use canned tomatoes, preferably the Italian pomodoro variety, or a very fine quality tomato puree.
The olive oil, of course, must be the very best. The amount of garlic used depends on personal tatse and in general I would advise using less than Spanish cooks call for.
The elimination of bread from gazpacho takes it completely out of the peasant class, where it originated. The following version of this cold Spanish soup is made with an electric blender. I learned that even in Spain today those who have electric mixers or blenders make gazpacho this quicker, easier way.