Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chilled Gazpacho Soup with Feta

Chilled Gazpacho with Feta

Summer is here.

How do I know?

It's not because the days are warmer and longer, though they are. And it's not because the Adorable Monster is due for a shorter haircut, though he is. It's not even because school is out for the summer, though it is.

I know because tomatoes have finally hit my local farmers market. Tomatoes are to summer what Punxsutawney Phil is to spring. Terrible out of season, nectar of gods in season, this simple fruit is one of the great joys of summer.

I have many fond memories of feasting on sun-warmed tomatoes from my father's garden in southwest Virginia when I was growing up. I'd eat them like apples. There was always a massive box of them stored in our cellar, ripe for the taking. I even remember the time that my overly ambitious mother decided to make fresh tomato sauce and can it from hundreds of surplus tomatoes. It had been a banner year. We (meaning my two brothers and I) helped her crank them through an old press, the juice slurping out the other end like a geyser. We realized that if you ran them through twice, you could squeeze out twice as much juice.

The kitchen may have looked like something out of Saw IV when we were finished, but it was the best freaking tomato juice that I'd ever tasted.

Food memory is a powerful thing. You carry it with you all of your life, and the smallest whiff can bring it rushing back like a tidal wave. I'm reminded of that as I think about the Chilled Gazpacho Soup that I made yesterday, my thoughts drifting back to the past. What does it bring to mind?

Many things. The first time I made this recipe was with my mother in Floyd a few summers back (here's a great recent New York Times article on Floyd). It's actually her recipe with a few extra flourishes. What else? My youngest brother, now a talented chef, loathed tomatoes growing up. They were his foodie kryptonite. He loved spaghetti and ketchup and all manner of things wrought from tomatoes, but despised the fruit itself. He also failed to see how illogical this was.

I remember the first time I tried an heirloom tomato from the farmers market. It teleported me back to my childhood, to my father's garden, to that box of tomatoes in my childhood cellar, the one where a giant blacksnake lived under the old freezer, which seemed as old as that very old farmhouse on Lake Drive. Seemed, but probably wasn't. That house dated back to Davy Crokett times, or so I liked to believe when I was a kid. We did discover a baby's tombstone in the basement that dated back to the 1800's. Most likely that infant was buried there during a hard winter, when the ground froze solid and the only soft soil for digging a grave could be found deep in that dark, dank basement, where more spiders lived than people.

All these memories from Chilled Gazpacho with Feta. You should try making a batch, the first of the season. See what glimpses of your past it dredges up for you.


Chilled Gazpacho with Feta
Serves 4 people
Prep time: 10 minutes (plus one hour chilling time)
Vegetarian; gluten-free
Print Recipe

Ingredients
  • 4 cups tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 cup cucumbers, roughly chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 jalapeno, halved and seeded (optional)
for garnishing:
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • feta cheese
  • fresh cracked pepper
Directions
  1. Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, jalapeno, red onion and garlic in a blender and puree together until combined but still a little chunky. 
  2. Add the balsamic vinegar and the olive oil and mix together. 
  3. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 
  4. Chill the soup for at least an hour in the refrigerator (may be made a day in advance and kept in the fridge).
  5. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls. Crumble some feta cheese on top and drizzle with olive oil. Top with a little fresh cracked pepper. Enjoy!
Source for Ingredients
  • tomatoes, bell pepper, red onion, cucumber, and goat's milk feta cheese from the West Hollywood Farmers Market
  • extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Whole Foods

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