As it turns out, gazpacho is one of those dishes that everyone seems to have a recipe for, but none of them even come close to matching.  I learned this the hard way this weekend while staring down several pounds of beautifully ripe heirloom tomatoes that I picked up at the H Street FreshFarm Market on Saturday.

If you’ve been to a farmers’ market recently, you know that we are finally enjoying the bounty of late summer produce that our area puts forth: tomatoes in all shapes and sizes, peaches, peppers, summer squash, and watermelons are out in force.  This is the BEST time to visit your local market, as the prices are good and the produce is better.  And with the cost of conventional groceries on the rise, shopping farmers’ markets for your fruits and vegetables is becoming a truly viable option for most Washingtonians.

On my visit, I found myself picking up a bumper crop of heirloom tomatoes along with some peppers, squash and eggplants.  I knew that I wanted to make my favorite cold soup, but I was uncertain how best to proceed.  What I found when I consulted some of our more trusted cookbook resources (Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food, The Bon Appetit Cookbook) and several internet sources was something of a consensus on ingredients but no clear winner in terms of process.

Rather than following any one recipe to the letter, I opted to take in their combined wisdom and turn it into my own version of gazpacho.  And – in the interest of perpetuating the Babel-like proliferation of gazpacho recipes on the internet – I’m about to share it with you.

Ingredients, process, and an insider’s tip after the jump.

If you took a close look at the photo above, you’ve got a pretty solid understanding of the ingredients that go into gazpacho.  Add a few spices, some olive oil, some vinegar and a secret ingredient or two and you’re good to go.  I used:

  • Roughly three pounds of tomatoes, cut into small pieces but not peeled
  • Two kirby cucumbers, peeled and seeded
  • One bell pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • One half of a red onion, chopped
  • Three green onions, chopped
  • One jalapeno pepper, seeds and ribs removed
  • Roughly 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Two cloves garlic, chopped

All of the ingredients went into a large bowl where they were drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and dusted with cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper before being thrown into the food processor for a few minutes in three smaller batches.  Unlike many of the recipes I read, mine does not use any tomato juice or chicken broth for the base.  And although I toasted crostini to use for dipping, I didn’t include any day-old bread in my recipe as a thickener.

I wish I could tell you that I did something amazing or revolutionary, but gazpacho is really easy to make – it’s like making a salsa.  It seems to me that one of the biggest differences between the various versions of gazpacho is how you finish off your soup.  I prefer to give it some added spice and body with McIlhenny’s smoky chipotle pepper Tabasco sauce and a sprinkling of Salish (the smoked salt we get from the Temecula Olive Oil Company).  The two combine to give the soup a richer, less watery flavor and they represent the only real innovations I bring to the table in terms of preparation.

Looking to make gazpacho yourself?  Well there is one tip I can give you that is likely to save you money and help you make friends at the farmers’ market.  When shopping for heirloom tomatoes to use in your soup, ask the vendors if they would be willing to sell you their rejects – the ones that didn’t survive the trip from the farm to the market without bruising or, in some cases, splitting.  Remember that you’re going to be throwing your tomatoes into a food processor, so their appearances have little impact on the final outcome of the dish. 

The farmer I bought from calls these tomatoes ‘mashers,’ but I’ve also heard them referred to as ‘seconds.’  Whatever they call them, most farmers are only too happy to give you a good deal on them.  They’re happy to find a buyer for them, instead of simply throwing them away.  Just make sure you plan to use them right away, as they are more susceptible to mold and any split tomatoes are going to leak all over.

So do yourself a favor and ask for mashers when you’re planning to make gazpacho.  You’ll save some cash and make the farmers’ day.  And whatever you do, make sure you come back and post your own gazpacho recipe online – the more the merrier!

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