Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tomato Heaven

I used to garden. Back in New Mexico we had a huge garden. We grew corn and beans and squash and chili (of course), grapes, asparagus, spinach, broccoli, onions, garlic, tons of herbs, and, of course, tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes. My husband would start them from seed in the greenhouse and they'd be vigorous plants by the time the last frost had passed and we were able to plant them outdoors. By the time of the fall frost, we'd have picked and eaten many beautiful tomatoes, but we always had tons more on the vine. Some would ripen when we pulled the plants and let them hang indoors, and some would stay green. That's the way it is when you garden at 7,000'. Growing season is barely 4 months long. You learn the art of making green tomato chutney, fried green tomatoes, and green tomato and chile sauce.

Here in San Diego, we have perfect weather and a long growing season, but unfortunately my yard also has lots of shade. I mean, lots of shade! I have a small patch in the front which gets sunlight for a few hours during the summer months, but that's it. I've tried growing tomatoes here in the past, but they don't like it. Which saddens me more than I can say, because to me, there is absolutely nothing more heavenly than a ripe tomato picked off the vine.
I wrote about my father's tomatoes in an earlier post, and those memories come back every summer when fresh, vine ripened tomatoes are available in the farmer's markets. I find myself hauling back arm loads of them, and when I get home I look at the cat and realize that she will not be helping me out here. I must figure out how to deal with them by myself. But tomatoes are one of those fruits which have so many possibilities that I never worry.

When searching for the perfect tomato recipe, I turn to the Mediterranean. I mean, that area of the world can make tomatoes, garlic and bread into a seemingly endless variety of food. You sit down to eat something scrumptious, and then your realize that it's another version of tomatoes garlic and onion. DUH!

These days the weather has been hot and humid, so my thoughts turn to things which don't have to be cooked. I will fix my chai in the morning, but I'm really not loving the idea of turning on the oven for any reason. So when I came across this recipe for an Andalusian style gazpacho, I knew I had found my solution. So simple, but sooooo much better than any other gazpacho I've ever made. In the past, I've always thought of gazpacho as a kind of a salad in a bowl. Cucumbers and onions were always in there. I didn't realize that you could make it without these ingredients until I found this version, which highlights the tomatoes and the olive oil. For best results, try to use mostly fresh tomatoes, and preferably the low acid kind which are sweeter. If you must add to that, it will be fine - especially if you can swing it so that at least 50% of your tomatoes are fresh. The quality of this soup is totally dependent upon the quality of your tomatoes and olive oil. Use the best stuff you can find. You won't be disappointed - I promise!
Gazpacho "El Faro"

The classic Andalusian gazpacho is found all over the region with surprisingly few variations, except for the addition of cucumber and onion — ingredients that have fallen out of favor with chefs who prefer to allow the pure taste of the tomatoes, Sherry vinegar, and olive oil to shine through. In this version, cumin lends an intriguing, subtle flavor.

Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 3 1/2 hr

Servings: Makes 4 servings.


1 (2-inch-long) piece baguette, crust discarded
2 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar (preferably "reserva"), or to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
2 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Andalusian hojiblanca)

Garnish: finely chopped red and green bell peppers


Soak bread in 1/2 cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.

Mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a large knife). Blend garlic paste, bread, 2 tablespoons vinegar, sugar, cumin, and half of tomatoes in a food processor until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes with motor running and, when very finely chopped, gradually add oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.

Force soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.

Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered, until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving.

Kitchen note:
• Gazpacho can be chilled up to 2 days.
• I had leftover cucumbers, so I used them as a garnish. Avocados would be a terrific garnish as well.


Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

I've never met a gazpacho variation I didn't love! I tend to leave mine a bit chunky, and also garnish with chunks of avocado or chilled steamed shrimp to make a more rich meal. Oh -- and try growing mint in your shady garden -- it's the one thing that thrives in the shadier part of my garden.

Toni said...

lydia - I mostly agree - I've rarely met a gazpacho I didn't like. Sometimes they need more oomph, but usually a little salt and pepper will cure that. But this version is probably the best I've ever tasted!

And I DO grow mint! Lots of it....mojitos anyone???

Mike of Mike's Table said...

Down by me, I have the opposing garden problem: oppressive heat and sun light. Some of the things I've tried to grow just can't take it..that, and I'm no good at it, lol.

This gazpacho sounds delicious! I also really like Lydia's ideas...I'll have to keep both of these in mind!

Terry at Blue Kitchen said...

Sherry vinegar and cumin? This sounds wonderful, Toni. I was never a big fan of tomatoes until Marion showed me what tomatoes from your own garden tasted like. What a difference.
Speaking of alternative gazpacho recipes, when we were in Santa Fe recently, we had a delicious strawberry gazpacho at La Boca, a lovely Spanish tapas place.

Toni said...

Mike - I had your problem when I lived in New Mexico - we had to build a lath structure over our garden in order to grow anything!

Terry - I'll be in New Mexico over Labor Day weekend - maybe I'll make it up to Santa Fe?! Strawberry gazpacho? Sounds decadent and wonderful!

Heather said...

Today I picked our first tomato of the season - a nice black brandywine. I almost just ate it right out of hand.

anya said...

I'm keeping one ripe gorgeous tomato in my vicinity as I'm writing this. :) I agree nothing beats a ripe tomate right away from a vine. I especially love the combo of fresh tomato, basil and soft goats cheese.

Unknown said...

Heather - You have more willpower than I do - that's for sure! I would have eaten it - Presto, Gone!

Anya - Love that combo, too!!

glamah16 said...

Yummm. Ilike he addition of the cumin.

Susan said...

I've been toying with a gazpacho - must get a move on lest I miss the next few (and last) weeks of prime local produce.

Is there anything more fresh, vibrant and healthy than this? Looks mighty good, Toni.

Anonymous said...

Using fresh tomatoes really makes a difference. Your recipe sounds delicious, definitely heavenly :D.

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