Hot weather means it’s time to eat gazpacho! Contrary to popular opinion, gazpacho is not cold tomato soup. It is bread soup, made with all the things a Spanish farmer would always have had in the larder, and the main event is stale bread.
Spanish bread is extremely delicious and typically extremely dry. My recipe for Pan de Campo (country bread) calls for 1 kg of flour and 250 ml of water (I would typically use anywhere from 700 ml of water or more depending on what I was making) and the recipe explicitly asks you to add as little water as possible (I would add as much as possible). Further, you are requested to shape the dough directly after kneading it, letting it rise only once before baking it. The result is great but short lived. Anyone who has traveled in Spain knows you can use a day old loaf to hammer in nails if you happen to need to hammer in nails and don’t have a hammer. At the end of one day the basic bread in Spain is completely dry. This means you can store it indefinitely, using it to make all sorts of thing including gazpacho.
The other ingredients in gazpacho include: water, olive oil, vinegar, garlic and salt. That’s it. This is the base and as you can see it is made from things any Spanish household would naturally have in the cupboard to blend with the bread that is stale at the end of each and every day. Combine these things and you have a lovely bread soup. Add some seasonal ingredients like almonds, tomatoes, peppers or grapes in the late summer, cucumber, spring greens, or fresh herbs in the early summer, or Seville orange juice in the winter and you have a delightful every day soup. Add some exotic spices like cumin or paprika or an expensive treat like a few slithers of serrano ham or some hard boiled egg and you have a feast. What you add is totally up to you.
The farming family in Spain would have used seasonal ingredients to dress up their gazpacho, adding the expensive stuff on special occasions. If you would like to try the basic gazpacho, the recipe is below. If you would like to add things like tomatoes, ground almonds, grapes, or Seville orange juice…go for it! The thing to do if you are adding things is to make the basic gazpacho up to the point when you add the water at the end. Add the extras first and then add the water to achieve the consistency that you like. Gazpacho should be quite thin and a little bit sour from the vinegar. It should not taste rich or mayonnaisey at all.
Recipe for Gazpacho (bread soup)
200 g stale bread
1 litre of water
3 garlic cloves peeled
150 ml olive oil
5 tablespoons of wine vinegar
2 tsp salt
Soak the bread in the water until it is thoroughly mushy. Strain it through a sieve, reserving the water, and squeeze it out with your hands. Pop it in a food processor. Run the motor and add the garlic cloves and the salt. Blend into a paste, adding a drop more water if it is not whirling around properly. Add the olive oil in a thin stream as the motor is running and then add the vinegar. Scrape this paste into a big container (that can fit in your fridge) and pour on all the water. Put it in the fridge to cool down completely. Serve cold with a lovely garnish to make it pretty – chopped parley or chives might be nice, as would chopped melon, diced apple, grapes, mint, finely diced onion or pepper, or olives (or whatever you have on hand).
1. add the juice of 1 seville orange (they are sour)
2. add 2 tsp paprika or 1/4 tsp cumin
3. add 100 g ground almonds
4. top with chopped hard boiled egg and strips of serrano ham
5. add 1 kg of wonderful ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped and/or a peeled, chopped cucumber and/or a peeled and chopped pepper
On Stale Bread
Stale bread has many uses and as long as you thoroughly dry out your bread you can store it in an airtight container if you don’t want to use it straight away. To do that, slice it up when it is getting a bit old even for toast, take the crusts off, and let it completely dry out. If you are not sure, heat the oven up to 50 degrees C and then turn it off. Put the sliced bread in on a cookie sheet and then simply leave it there all day/all night. Don’t forget it’s in there or you may (as I have done) turn the oven on to do something else and land up with blackened slices of bread. Gazpacho is traditionally made with good quality white bread. However, I have made it with whole meal bread, sourdough bread, bread with tarragon in it…the thing is that I never throw away bread. I have a HUGE tin for storing stale bread and whatever goes stale I dry out completely and pop in the tin. There is all sorts in there and when I need it I just pull out a handful of assorted dry bread and use it. Traditional it is not, delicious it is.