Labor Day has come and gone but summer’s heat and humidity linger. What better excuse for a bowl of chilled gazpacho for lunch? Or dinner, or an afternoon snack for that matter? In Andalusia, where this healthy bowl originates, they keep a big pitcher of gazpacho in the refrigerator at all times, ready for anyone who feels the need for a quick pick-me-up.
Andalucía is also home to my favorite olive oil to pair with tomatoes–Castillo de Canena’s picual. Picual olives are widespread in Spain–in fact they account for the vast majority of Spanish olive oil. And there’s a problem with that. Despite picual’s high content of polyphenols, in many cases they don’t get harvested early enough in the season (often running into February) and because of over-crowding at the mills, they don’t get processed with sufficient rapidity. The result: the distinctive pipi di gatto flavor and aroma that Italians disdain in Spanish oil.
But not with Castillo de Canena. The Vaño family, who own and operate Castillo de Canena from the family seat in the Andalucian province of Jaén, are mighty particular when it comes to their oils, keeping very close tabs on the development of the olives in the field, harvesting at precisely the right (early) moment, pressing almost instantaneously–all of which goes into making this very high-quality oil which has all the bitterness you would expect from high polyphenols, and yet a smooth finish that I would never call buttery (a pejorative indeed in the world of high-quality extra-virgin) but rather elegant, supremely elegant. And it is somehow just perfect with tomatoes. I use it to finish cooked tomato sauces (for pasta al pomodoro), I dribble it over sliced raw tomatoes on my morning toast, and I stir a dollop of Canena picual into my gazpacho for a super-healthy and super-delicious lunch.(
And right now, with the garden overflowing with tomatoes in all shapes and sizes, including striped green zebras, right now is the moment to break out the picual.
Here’s my recipe for a real Andalucian gazpacho, from The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook (https://tinyurl.com/yd2b2kah):
Makes 8 servings.
- 3 1/2 pounds ripe, red tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 6 cups)
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1/2 small red onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, chopped
- 1 long cucumber, peeled and chopped
- 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Castillo de Canena picual)
- 2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar (or more to taste)
- 1 2-inch slice stale white country-style bread
- 1/2 cup very cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- Pinch of cayenne pepper (or to taste)
- Sea salt
Add the tomatoes, garlic, onion, pepper and cucumber to a blender and whirl briefly (in small batches if it’s easier) just to puree. With the blender lid ajar, add the oil and vinegar while you continue to process the vegetables.
Tear the bread into small chunks and soak briefly in the cold water. When the bread is soaked, gently squeeze out the excess water and add the soaked bread to the blender along with the cumin and cayenne. Process too incorporate thoroughly.
Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and/or a small quantity of sugar (not more than 1/2 teaspoon max) if necessary. More vinegar can be added to adjust the flavor. If the soup seems too thick, add ice cold water until you get the right consistency. The soup should be light and smooth, almost creamy.
Serve very cold and garnish with traditional gazpacho garnishes–small croutons of stale or toasted bread; chopped cucumber, green pepper and/or onion; chopped hard-boiled egg. Always serve with an extra swirl of olive oil.