Strawberry gazpacho

June 8, 2012 § 25 Comments

So, I think I might have had more to share with you.  Some further reflections, maybe a recipe, and many many thanks for your wonderful, kind response to my post about my feast.  But it’s going to have to wait.  It will have to wait because my consciousness has been completely and irrevocably subsumed by this soup.

It’s like a secret that’s just too good.  It takes on a will of its own, growing and pushing and elbowing until it burbles out to be shared, whether or not you meant for it to be aired.  I do want to share this soup with you, and it has decided that it simply can’t wait any longer.

When we ate it for supper a while back Joel exclaimed, “this is the first soup that I can say without qualification that I love.”  Myself, I would count it among a very small handful of soups that I have truly loved.  But it is the only one of said soups that does not also contain more than my week’s allotment of cream in a single bowl.

Being the crazy upsy-downsy spring and early summer it has been, the day when we had this soup was not even remotely a gazpacho-y day.  Rain and cold had come to roost, and I had to wear two sweaters and a scarf to stay warm enough while sitting at my computer working on transcribing.  But, I had decided earlier in the week to make gazpacho, so I thumbed my nose at the weather and did so.

The moment I tried a bite, any concerns about it being right or wrong for the weather became trivial, trifling things on par with concerns like should I choose dusky rose or evening rose for my nail color?

We both ate two bowls, and I’m seriously considering the possibility of it being an adequate diet if I eat nothing else but strawberry gazpacho for the entire summer.  Perhaps with the addition of some more spears of grilled asparagus wrapped in Serrano ham.  Those made for nice companions.

Who would have thought that strawberries would integrate so marvelously into a chilled, savory soup?  (It is thoroughly on the savory side; no dessert soup here.)  But it does, and, at least for me, may banish tomatoes from my gazpacho repertoire forever.

I’m sure this all sounds a little extreme, but I’ve never been much of one for the regular tomato gazpacho.  I like the concept, but in the execution I find it usually tastes like someone screwed up the salsa, or has poured cans of tomato juice into our bowls.

Strawberries, on the other hand, provide pep, verve, zing, and a brighter sweet-savory balance than tomatoes do.  The strawberry flavor is pronounced in a very, very good way, and it both mollifies the stemmy flavor of the peppers, which can sometimes be abrasive otherwise, and highlights the juiciness of the cucumber while keeping it from tasting just a little too much like a facial mask smells.

I can claim no credit for the brilliance of this recipe.  It’s all Daniel Humm’s.  And given that he is the chef of Eleven Madison Park, one of the top restaurants in New York City and near the top on the world stage as well, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I was swept off my feet by his rendition of an early summer soup.

But what truly is surprising, I think, is how simple the execution of this particular recipe is.  Many of the recipes in his book will probably remain just eye candy for me given their reliance on nitrogen cartridges, thermomixes, agar agar, and foie gras in many beautiful, beautiful guises.  But this soup is just chop, chop, chop, leave for 3-6 hours, blend, blend, blend, and serve.

Unless you are one of the tiny percentage of the population who has a chinois in your home kitchen that you just really love using, I’d say you don’t even need to strain the soup.  The velvety texture of a strained soup is lovely, but I liked the very subtle nubbliness of the unstrained one as well.

It’s enough to make me want tomato season to hold off far into the future.  Just keep the strawberries coming.  I need more soup.

Strawberry Gazpacho adapted, just barely, from the Eleven Madison Park Cookbook (makes 8 very modest servings or 4 generous ones)

  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, kept whole, but peeled and crushed
  • 1 1/2 cups whole grain bread (I used Ezekiel bread, which worked great), crusts removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 6 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 2 1/4 cups English cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced
  • 1 1/4 cups red bell pepper, diced
  • 3/4 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
  • 2 Tbs. tomato paste mixed into 4 Tbs. water
  • 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • basil leaves, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil, for serving
  1. Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a medium-small saute pan over medium-high heat.  Add in 1 clove of garlic and when it starts to sizzle add the bread cubes and thyme.  Cook, stirring until the bread is golden brown, being careful not to burn.  Discard the garlic clove and thyme and put the bread cubes into a large bowl.
  2. Add the remaining garlic clove, the strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, 1/2 cup olive oil, tomato-paste water, vinegar, and salt to the bowl.  Toss everything to combine, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave to marinate at room temperature for 3-6.  (Mine wound up sitting for 7.  It was fine.)
  3. After 3-6 hours, puree the mixture together in small batches until very smooth.  Strain, if desired, then refrigerate until fully chilled.
  4. Before serving, taste and adjust the salt and vinegar if desired.  Serve sprinkled with basil leaves, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil on each bowl.
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