Saturday, July 24, 2010

God's Pacho

So there I was, calmy chatting with the Yemeni Embassy in Bonn... well, a resident of the former Yemeni Embassy, since the Yemenis in Germany have moved their diplomats to Berlin just like everyone else and when my friend Josh's wife got a job in Bonn, they wound up living in this building where the Yemenis used to be. At any rate, Josh is a food fanatic, and said he'd just made something extraordinary, the best recipe for gazpacho he'd ever had. Next thing I knew, my e-mail went ding, and I had it. Josh was seriously nuts about this; he said it was just unlike anything he'd ever had.

After we parted cyber-ways I looked at it. It was from Cook's Illustrated, a magazine I have had my problems with for its finicky ways and arch approach. Still, they published The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition, which I use a lot and which lives up to its name often enough, and, most importantly, every single element of this recipe (which I apologize in advance for not printing, because it's in the magazine's current edition, and I do respect copyright, geezer that I am), right down to the salt, could be locally sourced: tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, salt, olive oil, vinegar, bread. About the furthest-away element was either the salt (from the Camargue) or the olive oil (from Aniane, a good 30-minute drive from here). I hit the market.

After that, I washed and chopped. And then had this:

On the right are tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, red onion, and garlic, chopped roughly. On the left, in the sieve, are all of those things minus the garlic, chopped fine. Both are salted, and the small pieces are draining a colorless liquid into a bowl on which the sieve has been set. There were no red onions, as I know them, at the market, but there were these odd-looking critters marked "sweet onions" (among other  names, I realized at the market today, another being "chicken leg"), so I bought a bundle of three. Excellent decision, as it turned out: 1 1/2 of them was just the right amount.

At any rate, that stuff all sat there for an hour. Then I dumped the coarsely-chopped vegetables into the food processor along with a couple of slices of bread, which I'd removed the crusts from, and used to soak up the liquid from the finely-chopped vegetables.

For this I chose a pavé du chef from the bakery on the corner, Ortholan, a squarish hunk with a firm crust and delicious insides, which they sliced for me. Most of the rest of it disappeared into sandwiches, of course.

Ready to go:

I blended the hell out of it, drizzling in a half-cup of olive oil. Dang if it didn't sort of emulsify, getting very smooth.

But there were still coarser bits of stuff in this mixture, so it had to be sieved to remove them.

This stuff smelled so good that I seriously considered saving it and using it as a spread for bread. But then, the whole kitchen smelled fantastic, even though no heat at all had been applied to anything.

Next, I stirred in some wine vinegar from a local winery, some parsley, and half the fine-chopped vegetables, covered it up, and put it in the fridge for 24 hours. The rest of the fine-chopped vegetables went into a plastic container and also went into the fridge.

The next day, at dinner-time:

Not only had the volume reduced some (and why is that?), but the color darkened, possibly due to the vinegar, of which there's just two tablespoons in all of that liquid. I was ready to eat, although, sad to report, my taste buds had closed down considerably around 5 pm, and hadn't recovered much in the subsequent five hours. Enough sensation was present for me to know I was eating something extraordinary, though.

(Mitropa only dreamed of serving anything that tasted this good!) I stirred some finely-chopped vegetables into it and realized I didn't need any additional vinegar or olive oil, and managed to destroy two bowls of this, plus over half that baguette, for dinner last night. I was hoping I could taste the wine I chose for it, a 2009 Domaine de la Prose rosé, which, sad to say, was only barely present.

But after I got back from the market at noon today, I grabbed the leftover soup and had a couple of spoonsful to confirm my suspicion that this was, indeed, something special. It is: incredibly complex, with the onion and garlic flavors forming a baseline for the tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers to play around with on top. It was all I could do to keep from finishing it right there and then, but it's got to serve as another dinner in a couple of days.

And although summer weather has been with us for a while, it occurred to me that most of summer's goodies are still ripening on the vines. The best is yet to come, and given how cheap it was to make this, I'm going to keep experimenting with this recipe (what would it be like with a very low-acid tomato, for instance: this was just a mess of various types of heirlooms from the surly Bioland guy's selection) as summer progresses.

Thanks, Josh!


  1. If you can't finish it all next time around, bring it on over...Shoko is in Japan for a month. I need a new chef!

  2. I've been making it green and tomato-free

  3. This sounds yummy! I'll give it a try.


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