where I’m from, tomatoes are in our blood. we eat them as a side dish with dinner in the summertime, with just a little salt and pepper. or fresh out of the garden smushed between two pieces of white bread with a smudge of dukes mayonnaise. we have a festival in their honor each year, complete with tomatoes on a stick, a tomato dunking booth, a tomato queen, and other such non-traditional relics to the juicy, red gods of summer.
and so when I first moved to Spain I was delighted to be in a country that reveled these fruits as much as I did. it’s served as a simple accompaniment to almost every meal, rubbed onto crusty bread and sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt as pan con tomate. they grate it into tomato rallado as a sauce base, salad dressing, and the sticky, seductive secret to socarrat. of course, there’s the annual tomatina in buñol, outside of valencia. this quote from one spain’s most famous playwrights- pero sin tampoco olvidar el pa amb tomàquet
And of course, how dynamic a simple chilled tomato soup became as you travel through different regions. heading south to andalucia and gazpacho it is no longer gazpacho, the chilled, refreshing tomato soup you may be familiar with- it is salmorejo, a thick-based, garlic-laiden, dream of a substance that looks you straight in the eye and says to you, in that thick, distinctive andalusian way of speaking that you need to “tranquilo, nino- sientate aqui y por favor, disfrutate la vida.”
if you haven’t had it, you owe it to yourself- but beware, it may be impossible to go back to normal gazpachos, or really to eat anything else and not be thinking about it, for a while. this gazpacho runs down your throat and into your veins, your pores, until you become the gazpacho. and the gazpacho becomes you. and you are absolutely fine with that- it is not a resignation, it is an revelation.
try your hand in making it here- but don’t say i didn’t warn you.
1 (4″ long) piece of baguette, crust broken off (note: this can be up to 4 days old.)
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of salt
12 whole blanched almonds OR 1/4 cup natural almond butter
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (preferably spanish, or andalusian hojiblanca)
2 lb ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, and quartered
1/2 english cucumber, peeled, sliced, and quartered
1/2 yellow bell pepper, core and seeds removed.
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
soak bread in water for 1 minute (or 2 min for 2-day old bread, 3 min for 3-day, etc), squeeze dry and discard water.
mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle. blend garlic paste, bread, and almonds in a food processor or with an immersion mixer and slowly add olive oil while blending, until mixture is thick and smooth. add tomatoes and cucumber a few at a time, along with vinegar, and blend until smooth. force soup through a sieve into a bowl or allow to pass through a food mill to remove any remaining solid pieces.
transfer to a jar and let chill for 2 hours before serving.
add- one soft boiled egg, cut in half. toss in a dash of jamon bits. drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with spanish paprika. attempt to use a spoon although you know it’s a rudimentary tool for such greatness and that life is short- just assess what is appropriate given the company you are with and enjoy.