It’s early October. My tomato harvest is still ripening indoors after a cool summer in the Pacific Northwest. In August my tomato plants looked beautiful, with hordes of little yellow flowers just waiting for enough warmth to burst into bright red tomatoes. Temperatures remained cool and gradually the flowers were transformed to small green tomatoes and, oh so slowly, into bronze tinged fruit, and, finally, as the promise of summer warmth faded into fall, I picked my mildly blushing tomatoes and brought them in to the kitchen. Now there are ripe red tomatoes all over my counter.
As the cool northwest summer has turned to a wet and still cooler northwest fall, my eagerness for tomatoes has faded. I suppose there are many possibilities but much of my enthusiasm dwindled waiting for those green tomatoes to turn to a deep rich red. Since they have been ripening on my counter I have made tomato sauce but most of my favorite tomato dishes feel a little out of place in the shortening days of autumn. What to do?
The answer – I decided I needed a new recipe. What says autumn in the kitchen? Roasted vegetables, orange tinged hues, recipes with names that suggest abundance. And which dishes had I missed the most as my tomatoes took their own sweet time ripening in my garden?
The recipe I craved the most this summer was gazpacho. I made it twice in August, with store bought tomatoes. The result was nice but not completely satisfying. So I decided to try again. I gave it a new name and tried to fortify it with a little more substance and rich flavor to complement our chilly autumn weather.
I like gazpacho with bread in it. For years I made a version that added bread in the form of croutons as accompaniments when serving. The texture of the soup was okay for summer, a little thin, but refreshing. The croutons added crunch and texture. Still, for autumn, the idea of bread in the gazpacho, thickening it, really appealed to me and, as I looked for new recipes, I found that food writers agree that adding bread to the main list of ingredients is the authentic way to go.
I found several gazpacho recipes on the Internet that included bread. In fact they suggested that bread was perhaps the most essential ingredient in gazpacho, followed closely by olive oil, garlic, salt and vinegar. Interesting! Several sources called for soaking stale bread and then squeezing out the water but the mushiness of that approach did not appeal to me. Simply adding sliced bread with the other ingredients seemed easier, more direct, and at least worth a try. I had a plan so I assembled my ingredients.
freshly ground pepper
three slices of bread
9 medium tomatoes
2 bell peppers
1 jalepeno pepper
1/2 large red onion
3 cloves of garlic
½ cup cilantro
1 11.5 ounce can Spicy Hot V8 juice
I got out olive oil, sea salt and the pepper grinder. I had no sherry vinegar on hand, and while I’m sure it would have been nice, and more authentic, I used balsamic vinegar instead. I had part of a loaf of olive bread on hand that was a couple of days old. I cut several slices. Any type of French or Italian bread would work nicely. If the crust is too hard or thick it might be best to remove it. If the bread is too fresh, toasting it would probably improve the texture.
Next, I cut maybe 9 medium sized tomatoes in half. I placed them, cut side down, on a baking sheet and roasted them under the broiler until the skins began to blacken. That made the skins easy to remove. I cut and seeded two bell peppers, one red and one orange. Any bell peppers can be used but red gives the richest color and the orange one appealed to me in the interest of adding a bit more of an autumn hue. I also halved and seeded one jalapeño pepper. I laid the pepper pieces on the baking sheet and put them under the broiler, again until the skins began to blacken. I removed that skin as well. I peeled and seeded two large cucumbers, cut up half of a red onion and pressed three large cloves of garlic. I also cut several handfuls from a bunch of cilantro I had on hand.
I got out the blender and added my ingredients in batches. I ran the blender until the contents were fairly smooth but no longer than needed. I poured each batch into a large bowl and then stirred them together with one can of Spicy Hot V8 juice. I also added maybe a quarter cup of virgin olive oil and a few tablespoons of the vinegar.
That’s it. I served the gazpacho in low soup bowls, at room temperature. It is nice and refreshing to serve gazpacho chilled in summer and I think it would be equally nice to serve it gently warmed on cool autumn days. I garnished the bowl with cherry tomato halves and diced avocado. Bits of cucumber, green pepper, green onion, and/or good croutons would also be appropriate and add to the variety and texture of the soup. You might want to drizzle the top with olive oil or even a bit of pesto for a nice contrast. When I was in Georgetown a few weeks ago I had a bowl of gazpacho at a restaurant that was topped with toasted tortilla strips and three large grilled shrimp. They made a fabulous addition that it would also be fun to experiment with at home.