Chilled soup, silky and cool, with the garden freshness of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, and the flavor packed combination of garlic, oil, and vinegar.
By Bowen Close
Summer in Oregon isn’t exactly the summer I’m used to. I grew up in the rainy, humid, sweltering summers of the Midwest, then spent most of the last decade’s summers in the dry, oven-like heat of inland Southern California. I’m not used to these overcast mornings and cool evenings, where dinner the backyard is more comfortable with sleeves. But don’t take this as a complaint – I’d take chilly over sweaty any day, and am always more comfortable in a sweatshirt than in shorts.
I just say this to point out that gazpacho isn’t quite as necessary here as it is in the sort of summer that keeps you out of the kitchen at all costs – but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t perfect for a post-travel light summer meal, and that I didn’t happily eat it in the backyard with a sweatshirt on.
The first time Brett suggested making gazpacho for dinner some years back, I resigned myself to eating a glorified bowl of salsa for dinner and began strategizing some over-the-top, extra-filling dessert to make it feel like an actual meal. Who eats a cold soup of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers and calls that a meal?
I take eating way too seriously to consider such a thing.
But then he came to the table with a bowl of something entirely different. Silky and cool, with the garden freshness of tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers, and the flavor packed combination of garlic, oil, and vinegar. Crusty bread blended into the soup added texture, flavor, and heft, and emulsified olive oil made it creamy and thick.
It’s the perfect antidote to a hot day or a summer full of grilled meats and carb-heavy salads, and as easy as it gets. We now make it often during particularly hot times, or lazy times, or when we’ve been eating a little more heavily than we should be. I’ve added a few of my own touches as well – like goat cheese-spread croutons, and a few dashes of hot sauce for a bit of a spicy kick at the back end.
It may not be the most filling meal in the world, but it’s full of flavor and you can always add more garnishes to help bulk it up (think chopped hard-boiled egg, bacon, and hard cheeses). It also makes a great side, particularly to grilled meats, if you don’t want just soup for dinner.
A few crude strokes of a knife, a quick blend, and some adjustments to taste, and you can have in front of you a delicious and healthy dinner, no heat required. Can’t really ask for more than that.
- 5 large red tomatoes (or the equivalent, and any type will work)
- 1 English/hothouse cucumber or 1 large American cucumber
- 1 medium red or white onion
- 2 large sweet peppers - I like to use one red bell pepper and one Anaheim/California pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- Crusty bread - the equivalent of 1 baguette or a mid-sized ciabatta loaf (if you don't want bread for garnish, you'll only need about ⅓ this much)
- 5 Tbsp. red wine vinegar, plus more as needed
- A few dashes of hot sauce, or to taste (optional)
- Salt, to taste (at least 2 tsp.)
- ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for serving
- Small handful flat-leaf parsley, for serving
- 2-4 ounces goat cheese, for serving (optional)
- Prep the tomatoes: Halve each tomato and scoop out all the seeds using your fingers or a spoon. Cut or scoop out the stem end as well. Cut each half in half again, and set aside two chunks for garnish.
- Prep the cucumber: Peel, slice lengthwise, and scoop out all the seeds with the end of a spoon. Cut each half into three chunks, and set one aside for garnish.
- Prep the onion: Peel and cut into rough eighths. Set one aside for garnish.
- Prep the peppers: Cut off the tops and bottoms and discard them, cut the pepper body in half lengthwise, and remove the inner veins and seeds. Cut the pepper into large chunks, saving approximately ⅛ of each pepper for garnish.
- Prep the bread: Cut approximately ⅓ of your bread into large chunks. Save the rest for garnish.
- Blend: Depending on the size of your blender, you'll likely have to blend the soup in two batches. The following describes the process in two batches. Start by putting about half of your vegetables, garlic, and bread into the blender, starting with the tomatoes on the bottom (this helps to create some blending liquid). Adjust the contents and your blender until you're able to blend everything into a smoothie-like consistency - I find this is easiest when I push down on the contents when the blender is on to get them to catch in the blade, using either my hand (being very careful, of course) or a wooden spoon. You'll also likely need to use a large spoon to rearrange the ingredients (when the blender is off) so that it blends. If you need more liquid to get things going, you can also start adding the vinegar (see below) at any point.
- Add half the vinegar, a few dashes of hot sauce (optional), at least 1 tsp. of salt, and blend to mix. Taste and continue to add vinegar, hot sauce, and salt until you get a flavor you like. It will need more salt than you think, most likely.
- With the blender on, slowly pour half the olive oil into the soup (most blenders allow you to remove a small center piece in the lid in order to do this). Try to pour into the center of the vortex created as the soup blends. If the vortex disappears, stop the blender and start it again until you see it. This emulsifies the oil into the soup, creating a smoother, thicker, creamier texture, and ensures that the oil won't separate from the rest of the soup.
- Remove the blended soup to a pitcher or a large bowl, and repeat the process in the blender with the remaining ingredients.
- Mix the batches of soup together and chill until serving.
- Prepare fresh garnish: Finely dice the tomato, cucumber, onion, and pepper that you set aside earlier. Roughly chop the parsley. Mix all these elements together in a small bowl and set aside.
- Prepare crouton garnish: If you want to spread goat cheese on your croutons, cut your bread into slices. Otherwise, cut your bread into bite-size chunks. Toast in a broiler, toaster oven, or toaster until crisp and slightly golden brown. If using the goat cheese, spread on croutons right before serving.
- To serve, pour soup into bowls. Drizzle olive oil over the surface. Scoop fresh garnish into the center of each bowl, then place croutons on top of the soup to the side of the fresh garnish.