Before I travelled through the crushing heat of southern Spain, I never saw the attraction of cold soup. In Tanzania I ate fresh pineapple, in Brazil I drank coconut juice and at home in Britain, I drank a nice hot cup of tea. But Andalucia has embraced the tomato and created a dish that’s perfect for its parched plains.
Gazpacho, like pizza, had humble beginnings. Although the Romans and Moors used to pound together bread, vinegar, olive oil and garlic, gazpacho as we now know it developed in the kitchens of country workers in the sixteenth century. Perhaps dazzled by this strange fruit from the newly discovered Americas, they threw tomatoes into the vinegar-soaked emulsion, plus whatever else happened to be lying around…peppers, cucumber or Iberian ham.
I actually had my first taste in Toulouse, courtesy of a Spaniard from Córdoba, who told me that in his hometown gazpacho takes the name of salmorejo. From Andalusian homes to the top tables of experimental cuisine, gazpacho today reappears in a variety of guises. Reinventions use lobster as a base, or add strawberry, melon, cherry or piments.
For me, though, I found my favourite gazpacho in the midday sun at Segovia, a stunningly attractive Spanish town where even the stone buildings wilt with the heat. It arrived, a dose of cooling, nutritious refreshment, with a selection of ingredients in tiny dishes at the side: crunchy onions, croutons, cucumber, gherkins. Everything I needed to adapt the dish to suit my own, sun-drenched tastes.
The Simplest Gazpacho Recipe – serves 2 (generously….)
Soak half a stale baguette with 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of water and one of olive oil. Leave while you chop the rest of the ingredients.
8 Ripe, juicy red tomatoes
Half a Cucumber
1 Red Onion
1 Red Pepper
Optional Extras: a few cloves of garlic, kidney beans, a dash of Tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.
Mix together in a blender.
Add the bready emulsion from above.
Optional Stage: If you prefer your gazpacho smooth, then sieve the mixture several times to remove traces of tomato seeds or skin. If you’re happy with it hearty, then leave it be.
Pour the mixture into bowls and chill for a few hours.
Optional Garnish: Iberian ham, sliced hard-boiled egg, a swirl of olive oil.