Cooking Class: The cold reds

For a quick, light and refreshing meal, try versions of gazpacho, the famous cold tomato soup.

Cold tomato soup 521 (photo credit: MCT)
Cold tomato soup 521
(photo credit: MCT)
One hot day, when my mother-inlaw was visiting us, she suggested putting the Israeli salad I was making in the blender to make a cold soup. When she tasted the result, she had another suggestion: Add fresh mint.
That’s how our family’s Israeli gazpacho was born.
Spanish gazpacho is usually heartier than the one we make. In fact, wrote my friend Clifford A. Wright, author of Mediterranean Vegetables, gazpacho started as a bread soup with almonds, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and salt and “probably originated when Spain was part of the Islamic world in the Middle Ages.”
Tomatoes and peppers came to gazpacho only after Christopher Columbus.
You could consider today’s gazpacho a type of tomato soup. Even though it usually also contains peppers and cucumbers, it’s the tomatoes combined with olive oil that give the soup its flavor and character. In describing what makes good gazpacho, Wright wrote, “Above all, the tomatoes must be of the sweetest, vineripened, height-of-the season type.” His gazpacho calls for garlic pounded with salt, then blended with roasted sweet pepper, week-old French bread soaked in tomato juice and water, a generous amount of tomatoes, olive oil, cucumber, sherry vinegar, yolks of hard-boiled eggs, salt, black pepper and optional cumin and ice cubes. Diced tomatoes, onions, parsley or chopped olives can be added for garnish.
It’s not surprising that other Mediterranean soups are also based on the pairing of tomatoes and olive oil.
Italians are known for their tomato sauces, but they make a variety of tomato soups as well. When we visited Florence, we enjoyed the classic Tuscan soup, pappa al pomodoro, at the famous Coco Lezzone restaurant.
Like gazpacho, this tomato soup had humble beginnings. It, too, was a way to use up stale bread. The bread makes the soup more satisfying and is important for the soup’s texture. Viana La Place and Evan Kleiman, authors of Cucina Fresca, wrote, “If you do not have access to good country bread, do not attempt the recipe.”
They also emphasized the importance of using olive oil of the highest possible quality with a strong fruity flavor.
To make their Tuscan tomato soup, they saute bread slices until golden, together with garlic and fresh sage, in a generous amount of olive oil. Next, they simmer the mixture with pureed tomatoes and water until the soup reaches the right consistency. They recommend serving the soup tepid with grated Parmesan cheese.
For a lighter soup, which they call minestra fresca, they simmer pureed tomatoes with sauteed garlic and chicken stock and finish it with fresh marjoram.
The soup is served chilled with grissini (bread sticks).
Cooks in southern France make a soup similar to minestra fresca.
According to Diana Shaw, author of Sweet Basil, Garlic, Tomatoes, and Chives, Nicoise tomato soup is made from a generous amount of fresh tomatoes cooked with sliced onions that have been sauteed in olive oil. The soup is flavored with thyme, bay leaves, cloves, basil and sugar.
After the bay leaves and cloves are removed, the soup is pureed and finished with a paste of garlic, olive oil and parsley.
In Mexico, where many historians believe tomatoes were first cultivated, cooks also prepare tomato soups. A popular one is made of tomatoes cooked with sauteed onions and chicken broth, and a last-minute garnish of fried corn tortilla strips. Often the soup is flavored with garlic and fresh coriander. Sometimes other vegetables, such as semi-hot peppers or carrots, might be added; and, as in Italy, this tomato soup might be served with grated cheese.
Makes 4 servings
In Spain, gazpacho is made in many versions.
Certain ones are thickened with ground almonds, pine nuts, hazelnuts or bread crumbs, while others, like this one, contain no thickener.
This light soup gets a burst of flavor from fresh ripe tomatoes and sweet peppers. A portion of the vegetables is pureed; the rest are diced and added for garnish. You can make the soup a day ahead; refrigerate it in a covered container.
To prepare my Israeli gazpacho, see the variation.
✔ 900 gr. ripe tomatoes
✔ 2 small cucumbers, peeled
✔ 2 medium-size red or green sweet peppers, or 1 of each kind
✔ 1⁄2 red onion, finely diced
✔ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
✔ 1 to 2 Tbsp. wine vinegar, or to taste
✔ 1 cup cold water
✔ Salt and freshly ground pepper
Finely dice 225 grams of the tomatoes, 1 cucumber and half the sweet peppers. Add diced onion. Set mixture aside to add at serving time.
Peel and seed remaining tomatoes: Cut cores from tomatoes, turn tomatoes over and slit skin in an X-shaped cut. Put tomatoes in a pan of boiling water and boil 10 to 15 seconds. Remove tomatoes with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of cold water. After a few seconds, remove tomatoes from water and pull off skins with the aid of a paring knife. Cut each tomato in half. Hold tomato half cut side down over a bowl and squeeze to remove most of seeds, reserving juice.
Put tomatoes in blender. Strain reserved tomato juice and add to blender. Add remaining cucumber, remaining sweet pepper, olive oil, vinegar and water. Blend until smooth. Pour soup into a bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1 or 2 hours.
When serving soup, add diced vegetables to each bowl.
Israeli Gazpacho: Use only 1 sweet pepper. Substitute lemon juice for the vinegar. At serving time, add 1 Tbsp.
chopped or slivered fresh mint leaves.
Makes 4 servings
Traditional cooks fry corn tortillas in strips to make this soup, but to save time you can purchase toasted tortillas and break them into pieces, or use tortilla chips or corn chips. Usually the soup is made from cooked tomatoes, but I finish it with raw tomatoes for a fresh touch. If you like, serve the soup with grated mild cheese or diced avocado.
In Mexico, vegetable oil is usually used to make this soup, but now olive oil is being produced in Mexico and more and more cooks are using it.
To peel and seed tomatoes, see the second paragraph in the recipe above.
✔ 570 gr. ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
✔ 1 to 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or olive oil
✔ 1 medium onion, chopped
✔ 2 semi-hot green peppers or 1 sweet green pepper, diced ✔ 2 large garlic cloves, minced
✔ 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or mixed broth and water
✔ 1⁄3 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
✔ Salt and freshly ground pepper
✔ Cayenne pepper to taste
✔ Tortilla chips to finish
Set aside 3⁄4 cup chopped tomatoes for finishing the soup.
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add onion and peppers and saute over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onion is light brown. Add garlic and saute for 1⁄2 minute. Add broth and remaining tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 15 minutes or until tomatoes are tender. Just before serving, reheat soup if necessary.
Add reserved tomatoes, most of cilantro and salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste. Serve soup sprinkled with tortilla strips and remaining cilantro.
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.