Tag Archives: panzanella

guillaume’s gazpacho

25 Apr


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.


Guillaume’s Gazpacho

Do buy the nicest, ripest tomatoes you can find. Coeur de boeuf, or beef heartare 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

salt, pepper

(optional: generous handful of fresh herbs like basil or parsley)

to serve:

more stale bread / olive oil / garlic clove

seeds (sunflower, pumpkin)

cucumber / avocado

fresh herbs

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.


20 Jul



The extractor fan shakes the bottles of rum, kirsch, cognac in the cupboard nearby, creating a steady clink. The slabs of puff pastry are clammy, not their usual paper-smooth. One extra distraction and it bunches and sticks itself into artistic rumples.

On a roundabout way home, near the golden dome of Les Invalides, I can’t help noticing how empty the avenue seems: one lady in shades of beige to match the dusty air, one thirty-something sedately rolling by, feet firmly placed on a wide skateboard, head balding slightly behind his sunglasses. Two teenagers shrieking over an iphone.

The moment we finally get our long-awaited summer – the moment I wish I could stay here, stay still, to go to outdoor cinema, to lounge in the sandpit at Paris Plage on my canal, the canal de l’Ourcq – everyone begins to leave Paris.


At work, I have to tidy the walk-in before the shop closes for a month. At Christmas, the fridge was so full you couldn’t walk in, only lean over to reach a tub of mirror icing. Now there is just a crate of tomatoes, some cream, some 5-litre bottles of pasteurised eggs and a box of real ones, for brioche.

Around 11am, someone has to start to think about lunch. Whoever is hungriest. Muttering wistfully about Toyko ramen, they open the door of the small staff fridge and sigh at the leftovers. I love the sticky-sweet honey and soy marinades they use to eke out scraps of chicken or pork, served with sticky rice. I have to restrain my hands when they make spaghetti – there’s no cream in carbonara! the sauce does not sit prettily on a swirl of dry pasta – but the meal is always proffered with imagination and warmth. Today it is entirely to my taste. I put off the puff pastry to chop ten large tomatoes, as a finely diced shallot, the last one, waits in a puddle of basalmic vinegar.

Tomatoes. Bread. There is always extra bread, crackly baguettes that scratch the roof of your mouth. A baguette and a half: torn up roughly it is perfect for panzanella, with enough oomph to soak up all the saved tomato juices, the inordinately generous glug of olive oil, and the balsamic. It needs to sit for an hour or so to really meld – the tomatoes get their corners knocked off, the bread softened and full of flavour. So I add half a cucumber, some stolen chives from the person making asparagus quiche (basil would be better) and some plain black olives. More salt and more oil than you might think is wise, a good mix with bare hands and it can sit in the corner, while some eggs turn hardboiled and I finally face the puff pastry.


The flour has started to irritate my skin – now when I fling it with abandon my forearms go pink and scratchy. Tomorrow is my last day, before the holidays yes, but also of my contract. I am done: I can sleep until the sun pushes me out of bed and straight into the hammock in the garden, I can use my energy to run far and hard in the cool evenings, not worrying about aching legs. I can stop eating leftover cake for supper and think about real meals.

When we sit down to eat around the marble counter – a heap of tomato rubble, the now soggy panzanella, two eggs and a slice of prosciutto each – I am reminded of the south of France, our perpetual summer holidays. The tomatoes are infinitely better there, full of sunny flavour. There, there is my happy place: the green lake where I swim out to the buoy and bob for hours –  where I have been bobbing now over months of dull afternoons, waiting for this moment. But these more pallid, robust tomatoes will do, and with my colleagues laughter, confusion, translation into French, English, Japanese, even a phrase in Cantonese, it feels pretty happy as it is. The baker boy loves rolling out the loaves, doesn’t really like eating bread, would much prefer rice, but he nods approval at the panzanella, pours me half of a Belgian peach beer brought back from his travels.


Not yet ready to leave my weird corner of Japan in Paris, not ready to think about what I have learned and what I am still missing after nearly two years. I know that my check trousers are a little more snug than they were, but they still button up. My clogs are worn through at the crease, and there is an odd boat-shaped burn on my right arm currently knitting itself into scar tissue.

Tomorrow is my last day, and I am so ready for my summer projects: cartwheels and swimming pools, cooking for pleasure (a whipped cream layer cake has been hovering for more than month now), actually writing  things again, dinner around the table with my small family. I am done with the early mornings, for now, but I don’t want to leave these lunches with my work crowd. But it is 1.30pm, the beer is gone and the oven is on again for the peach tarts in puff pastry. The flour must be swept up, the counter wiped down and the lights turned off. I can go home.

pecheresse beer

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