RECIPES: Comfort Food With a Spanish Twist

My wife Patricia is from Andalucia in the south of Spain, a region known for sherry and hams. But not many people know that Andalucia is the cold-soup capital of the world, thanks to gazpacho. Every summer, when you open the refrigerator in my house, you'll see a big glass pitcher right in the middle with this rich, creamy red liquid inside. It's always ready to refresh you on a hot day. My wife doesn't like to cook, and she always tries hard to change the menu at home. But one thing she cooks like the gods is gazpacho. This is her recipe. It's also one of the reasons I married her.

For the Gazpacho

Ingredients:

2 pounds ripe red tomatoes (about 10 plum tomatoes)
8 ounces cucumber (about 1 cucumber)
3 ounces green pepper (about ½ bell pepper)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled
¾ cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

For the garnish:

1 tablespoon Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 slice rustic white bread
8 plum tomatoes, with the seeds prepared as "fillets"
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
4 pearl onions, pulled apart into segments
2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Sea salt to taste
4 chives, cut into 1-inch long pieces

Instructions:

1) Cut out and discard the core at the top of the tomatoes, and chop the tomatoes roughly into quarters. Place in the blender.

2) Peel the cucumber and cut into chunks. Add to the tomatoes in the blender. Cut the pepper in half, and remove the core along with the seeds. Again, chop into large pieces and place in the blender.

3) Add the garlic and sherry vinegar to the vegetables and blend until the mixture becomes a thick liquid. At this point the red tomatoes will turn a wonderful pink color. Taste for acidity. This will vary with the sweetness of the tomatoes. If it's not balanced enough, add a little more vinegar. Add the olive oil and season with salt to taste. Re-blend, then pour the gazpacho through a strainer into a pitcher. Place in the fridge to cool for at least half an hour.

4) While the gazpacho is chilling, prepare the garnish. In a small pan, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame and fry the bread until golden, about 2 minutes. Break into small pieces to form croutons and set aside.

5) To serve, place in each bowl 4 croutons, 2 "fillets" of tomato seeds, 4 cherry tomato halves, 3 cucumber cubes, and 3 onion segments. Add a few drops of olive oil to each onion segment and drizzle a little more oil around the bowl. Add a few drops of vinegar to each cucumber cube and drizzle a little more around the bowl. Sprinkle sea salt on the tomatoes, and sprinkle the chives across the bowl. Serve when the gazpacho is refreshingly chilled.

José's tips If you want to be original, buy yellow or even green tomatoes. You'll surprise your guests. Also, if you want to save time, you can simplify the garnish immensely: just use a few cubes of cucumber, tomato, and green pepper.

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