I wish I had considered the pain-and-drain effects of Philadelphia’s summer heat before we moved here, but you can’t think of everything, I suppose, and we had other, apparently more serious things on our minds in 2006-7. (I wish I could remember what they might have been.) Although our June-August swelters are terrible, one blessing is that they propel one into chilled summer soup-making. The gazpacho recipe below, an excellent and traditional version appearing in Peter Feibelman’s The Cooking of Spain and Portugal, made its 2014 re-appearance in our house earlier this week. It rekindled very old memories (I’m fairly certain my mother used this recipe or a very similar one from my childhood days onwards) and it turned out so well that I’m sure this week’s rendition will create its own pleasant memories.
I first tasted gazpacho in Segovia, Spain under the shadow of the city’s famous Roman aqueduct when I was 8 years old. I was in Europe for the first time and my parents wanted to visit this ancient small city close to Madrid to see this engineering marvel and, I expect, have lunch in the excellent restaurant we visited. This was still Franco’s Spain and there was a palpable, serious and formal overlay on everything we experienced, which was reflected in women’s very traditional clothing, the serious expressions on men’s faces and of course the omnipresence of the Guardia Civil, who carried machine guns. I have never forgotten any of the palaces and monuments we visited, especially the Valle de los Caidos, with its haunting huge rock cross dominating the valley plain and its considerable resident population of indigent Spanish Civil War survivors, many of them amputees, begging alms.
On our initial European trips as a couple, Caroline and I always traveled to Spain, based on a combination of genuine interest, in order to stretch our dollars (Spain was considered a bargain spot in the later 1970s and early 1980s), and to spend time with a friend who lived in Mallorca. We would always split our trip into two parts, staying half the time in luxury hotels or romantic (and fairly luxurious) paradors in mainland cities and towns, and the other half for free as a guest at our friend’s house in Deyà on the Mallorcan coast. It was the best of both worlds, as they say, and we were privileged to enjoy a lot, learn a lot and make friends in new places. On our very first trip, I made sure to take Caroline to Segovia, which she loved as much as I did. We took a bus excursion there with a lovely group of Catholic pilgrims from South America, who were mainly focused on visiting Ávila, another destination on the day-tour, and paying their respects to Saint Teresa.
Next summer, when Jane has finally bidden Baldwin farewell and shaken off high school horrors, we will be taking our first family trip to Spain and the Balaerics. Our current plan is to visit Barcelona, the world’s most wonderful party town, first and then proceed to Mallorca to visit Kevin’s grave, Sóller, Palma and perhaps even finally see Chopin’s piano. We’ll hop over to Minorca and Ibiza, and conclude things in Madrid, where we will show Jane the Prado, our favorite restaurants, and drive out to Segovia, Ávila and the Valle de los Caidos, which I’d like to experience as an adult.
If I could have included Kevin Ayers’ song, Running In The Human Race, here I would have, but it isn’t on youtube, unfortunately. Recorded in the back seat of a Palma taxi, it sums up my current thoughts and mood perfectly. So, instead I’ve substituted I’m All Alone by Slapp Happy, from the great Sort Of record.
COLD FRESH VEGETABLE SOUP
To serve 6 to 8
2 medium-sized cucumbers, peeled and coarsely chopped
5 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
1 medium-sized green pepper, deribbed, seeded and coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
2 to 3 cups coarsely crumbled French or Italian bread, trimmed of crusts
4 cups cold water
¾ - 1 cup red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons of salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 cup 3-inch bread cubes, trimmed of crusts
2 cup finely chopped onions
2 cup peeled and finely chopped cucumbers
2 cup finely chopped green peppers
In a deep bowl, combine the coarsely chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, onion and green pepper, garlic and crumbled bread, and mix together thoroughly. Then stir in the water, vinegar and salt. Ladle the mixture, about 2 cups at a time, into the jar of a blender and blend at high speed for 1 minute, or until reduced to a smooth purée. Pour the purée into a bowl and with a whisk beat in the olive oil and tomato paste.
(To make the soup by hand, purée the vegetable and bread mixture in a food mill or, with the back of a large spoon, rub it though a sieve set over a bowl. Discard any pulp left in the mill or sieve. Beat the olive oil and tomato paste in the purée.)
Cover the bowl tightly with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or until thoroughly chilled. Just before serving, whisk or stir the soup lightly to recombine it. Then ladle it into a large chilled tureen or individual soup plates.
Accompany the gazpacho with the bread cubes and the vegetable garnishes presented in separate serving bowls to be added to the soup at the discretion of each diner.
NOTE: if you prefer crisp croutons for the garnish, fry the bread cubes. In a 6-to-8-inch skillet heat 1/4 cup of olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms over it. Drop in the bread cubes and, turning them frequently, cook them until they are crisp and golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels and cool.