Ahhh, gazpacho…. Serve this quintessential chilled summer soup on a hot summer day, and you will find nothing more satisfying and refreshing. Bursting with the flavor of fresh tomatoes and cool cucumbers, this silky soup is great on its own or as a tasty prelude to any summer meal.
I have tried many versions of gazpacho, but I have perfected this recipe as the one that best transports me back to Spain, to the little neighborhood bistro in Barcelona where we dined outside on a sultry evening, armed with a pitcher of sangria, a couple of guidebooks, and the best gazpacho I had ever tasted.
One of the reasons the Barcelonian version really wowed me was the notion of passing the vegetable garnishes. Any gazpacho I had ever had before already contained all the diced veggies: being able to customize the dish was a real treat. Our waiter served my soup and offered up a tray of garnishes, standing patiently by while I added a little of this and that to make the soup my own. On top of that, the fresh croutons brought the soup to a whole new level that I strive to recreate with this recipe.
Raid your garden or a local farmers’ market today and enjoy this delightful treat tonight!
This recipe was developed from a combination of 1) Spanish chef José Andrés’s recipe from his cookbook Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America , 2) tips and techniques from Cook’s Illustrated magazine, and 3) my own vacation memories from Barcelona.
Before starting, look over the ingredients for both the soup and the garnish to make sure you’ll have enough for both. While the garnish is optional, I really highly recommend adding some or all of the suggestions–especially the homemade croutons.
For the Soup
2 pounds ripe, in-season tomatoes, any size, any variety (it’s especially great with a variety of heirloom tomatoes)
1 medium cucumber
1 green bell pepper
1 medium onion
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
Optional: 1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or red wine vinegar)
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
¾ cup (6 oz) Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 slices rustic white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1” pieces
Suggestions for Garnish
Use as many from this list as you like or come up with some of your own toppings/add-ins.
12 cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered (or 1-2 regular tomatoes, diced)
1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, diced into ½” cubes
½ green pepper, peeled and diced
4 green onions, sliced (or use 4-6 cocktail onions, quartered)
4 chives, cut into ½-inch pieces (optional)
chopped fresh basil and/or parsley (optional)
1-2 slices rustic white bread, crusts removed, cut into crouton size pieces
2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Prep the Soup Vegetables
Core the larger tomatoes and chop roughly into quarters; chop cherry or grape tomatoes in half. Place in a large bowl. Peel the cucumber (optional), cut into large chunks and add to the bowl. Cut the onion and green pepper into large pieces and place in the bowl. Add the garlic and the kosher salt. If you like your food on the spicy side, chop and add a jalapeno pepper here, too. Toss the mixture to combine well. Let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. After at least 30 minutes, when liquid begins to pool at the bottom of the bowl, add the torn bread to the bottom of the bowl so it absorbs the liquid.
Prepare the Garnish
Dice the garnish vegetables into small pieces and set aside. In a medium pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and fry the bread pieces until golden, about 2 minutes. Cool and set aside.
Process the Soup
Add the vegetables, soaked bread and any remaining liquid to the blender (you may need to work in batches), add the sherry vinegar and blend until the mixture becomes thick and smooth. Taste for acidity; this will vary with the sweetness and types of tomatoes used. Add a little more vinegar, if needed. Add the red pepper flakes and then the olive oil, very slowly, in stages, blending to emulsify each time. Chill for at least 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, pour chilled gazpacho in serving bowls and pass the garnishes and croutons.
Step by Step Details
First, grab as many fresh summer veggies as you can. Try to use fresh-picked tomatoes, though, not the ones from the supermarket. Those are picked when still green and lose a whole lot of flavor ripening after that.
I usually start with a little more than two pounds of tomatoes, so that once I have cored the tomatoes and cut out any cracks in the skins, I have about two pounds left.
Core the larger tomatoes by inserting a paring knife in the end and carefully cutting around the core.
Chop the cored tomatoes roughly into quarters, and chop any smaller cherry or grape tomatoes in half. Place all the cut tomatoes in a large bowl. Peel the cucumber, cut into chunks roughly the same size as the larger tomatoes, and add to the bowl. Cut the onion and green pepper into large pieces and place those in the bowl. Add the garlic (and the optional jalapeno pepper) and then the kosher salt. Toss the mixture to combine well.
Allow the mixture to bask in its glory for up to an hour. The salt will draw out the liquid from the veggies — especially the tomatoes. Let this sit for 30 to 60 minutes, stirring it around once in a while if you feel so inclined. Use this time to nap, do laundry, play on the internet, or – the better idea – finish prepping the rest of the ingredients!
Begin with the bread. Remove the crusts and cut or tear the bread into one-inch pieces. Set these aside for now (discard the crusts).
Cut or tear the remaining one or two slices of bread into smaller, crouton-sized pieces. You guessed it: these will be the croutons. To make them, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame in a small pan. When a drop of water sizzles in the oil, it is hot enough to add the bread.
Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Now it’s time to dice the garnish vegetables.
Note on tomatoes: I like to use smaller, firmer grape or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered, for my garnish, as they hold up a little better. If using regular tomatoes, just squeeze the seeds and juices out to keep them from getting too mushy. (Go ahead and add those seeds and juices to the bowl of vegetables.)
Note on onions: Check out my tip for dicing onions. Or just slice green onions, both white and green parts, or use the cocktail onions that come in a jar. Or a combination of any of those.
Note on cucumbers: peel the cucumbers, and then remove the seeds by gently scraping a spoon down the middle.
If preparing ahead of time, keep all the diced garnishes EXCEPT the tomatoes in the refrigerator: the taste and texture of tomatoes deteriorates from cold temps. Keep those at room temperature, or just wait until right before serving to dice them.
Back to the soup. After the vegetables have sat for at least 30 minutes, stir in the torn bread pieces and allow them to absorb the liquid at the bottom of the bowl. When the resting period is over, place the vegetables, soaked bread and any remaining liquid in the blender. If your blender isn’t quite big enough for all of them, just add half at first and blend that before adding the remaining veggies, bread and liquid.
Next, add the sherry vinegar. (Red wine vinegar may be used here instead, if you prefer, or if you simply don’t have sherry vinegar.) I prefer sherry vinegar for its brighter flavor.
Blend the mixture on high until it becomes a thick and smooth puree. Then taste it. Just a spoonful. You’ll want more, but stay strong and resist the temptation or you won’t have anything left for dinner.
The acidity will vary with the sweetness and types of tomatoes used. Add a little more vinegar if you think it needs it. This is more of an intuitive, go-with-what-tastes-best-to-you step. Add the red pepper flakes now, too.
Then add the olive oil, very slowly, in 4-5 stages, blending well to emulsify each time.
With my style of blender, I cannot drizzle in the oil while the blender is running, so I pour about ¼ of the oil in each time and then blend it well. If your blender allows you to add the oil while it’s running, do so very, very slowly, allowing it to emulsify well between additions. You will notice the soup getting creamier and smoother as the oil is incorporated.
Prior to serving, season with salt and pepper to taste. To serve, ladle the chilled gazpacho into serving bowls and pass the garnishes and croutons at the table. For dinner parties, I like to serve the gazpacho in a large bowl with the garnishes on a Lazy Susan next to it.