My favourite kinds of recipes are the ones that are handwritten, folded neatly into squares and maybe lost at the bottom of a handbag for a while. Or written in a travel notebook to be made on returning, to bring a bit of the holiday sunshine home.
Even though it was a grey, cool Sunday, I really wanted to make the gazpacho recipe I have been carrying around, neatly written out on French graph paper. I had been warned that it needed at least 12 hours if not 24 to marinate, and was curious to see what difference that made. And we were going to have a long, rich, foie gras filled lunch out. So in the morning, I roughly chopped all of the ingredients and left them in the fridge to soften and meld and intensify. It looked remarkably like panzanella, one of my favourite summer dishes – tomatoes, bread, herbs, oil and vinegar, bread to soak up all the juices – that I wondered if I would blend it after all. The ingredients are so simple that you will have to trust me, the way I trusted my colleague Guillaume, that the sum is greater than its parts.
Most important are good tomatoes, which are popping up at the markets again. The ones that seem to be barely held in their own skins, they are so juicy. The final stall at the end of my street market had the most attractive coeur de boeuf, with those satiny grooves in their flesh. We had jugs of herbs – one euro for three bunches – decorating our new yellow kitchen. And there is always at least half a baguette going stale on the second shelf, just out of reach of the cat. (She will eat everything she can get her claws into, anything we forget to guard for a minute or two, including hummus, brioche and macarons. Sometimes she just likes to puncture bags of flour to watch it stream out and pool on the floor.) Everything ready for a gazpacho.
After a day in the fridge, after blending, the garlic lost its bite, the bread absorbed the oil and tomato juice. The fresh tomatoes, peppers and cucumber kept the spark and verve of almost-summer. For a cold soup, it had real body. And yet it was remarkably comforting, easy to eat at the end of a long day, even if not boiling hot outside. And a few simple, crunchy toppings – garlic croutons, herbs, cucumber – allow people to customise their own gazpacho bowl.
Do buy the nicest, ripest tomatoes you can find. Coeur de boeuf, or beef heart, are full of flavour. The recipe is minimal effort, maximum patience: chop everything and then let marinate for up to 24 hours. Trust that your evening self will be grateful for your preparation the previous night, or morning. If I am making a half-batch for one or two people, everything just fits into the food processor bowl which goes in the fridge. One less bowl to wash up.
makes enough for 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter
4 large beefheart tomatoes (about 800g)
2 large red peppers
1 large cucumber
2 fat cloves garlic
half a stale baguette (or 150g white bread)
80ml (1/3 cup) olive oil
40ml (2 1/2 tbs) balsamic vinegar
(optional: generous handful of fresh herbs like basil or parsley)
more stale bread / olive oil / garlic clove
seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)
cucumber / avocado
Peel the cucumber, and roughly chop it and the tomatoes and peppers. Cut or tear the bread into cubes. Finely mince the garlic. Toss it all with the oil, vinegar and herbs. Season with the salt and pepper. Leave to rest for 12-24 hours in the fridge.
Blend in batches with a food processor or blender, adding a little water to thin it out – between 125-250ml (1/2 – 1 cup). If you want it really cold on a hot day, you can add ice cubes instead. Check the seasoning and consistency as you go: some like a very smooth soup, I like a little texture.
For the toppings: cube any leftover stale bread and gently fry in olive oil with a whole clove of garlic until crisp and brown. Or toast some seeds with oil and some chilli pepper. Dice some cucumber and/or avocado. Finely chop some herbs (parsley, chives, coriander) or tear up some basil.
Ladle the gazpacho into bowls and add a drizzle of olive oil on top. Serve with a selection of toppings in little dishes so that everyone can add their own.