Soup for a Summer Night

The first thing I noticed when I stepped off the bus in Seville was the color. The blood red writing on the advertisement for an upcoming bull fight. The walls of bars and cafes painted canary yellow housing myriad bottles of sherry. A cloudless cerulean sky in January.

Seville is a city of color. It’s bright and loud, the people warm and effusive. I lived there during a semester in college and was immediately swept away in the city’s vibrancy and verve.

I was fortunate enough to live with a Spanish family. My host mother, Nani, and her three grown kids took me under their wing and helped me become fluent in Spanish. They educated me on the intricacies of dialect, patiently explained the history of the Spanish civil war and the ensuing decades-long dictatorship, and taught me how to eat like a Spaniard.

That brief stretch of time marked my first extended foray into a culture that wasn’t my own, and I relished being able to go undercover and discover a whole new set of mores and customs that weren’t my own. I happily adopted caffe con leche into my morning routine and ate huge lunches followed by long, lazy siestas. I stayed out absurdly late at flamenco shows and discotecas, sweaty, buzzed and alive.

Unsurprisingly, the food was my favorite aspect of Spanish culture. Gazpacho and tortilla espanola was my favorite lunch during the late spring and summer months. The ice-cold tomato-based soup punctuated with the sharp zing of raw garlic and sherry vinegar was the perfect antidote to the inescapable heat.

Spanish tortilla is a confusing name for a very thick omelette, usually with onion and potato. Gazpacho has many different iterations, but Nani’s remains my favorite. Her’s was a stripped down version, basically just ripe tomatoes pureed with a few other vegetables, a healthy dose of sherry vinegar, and an abundance of olive oil. Served with tortilla espanola and crusty bread, gazpacho has an almost Proustian power over me; it sends me right back to scorching late spring evenings circa 2006.

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The Best Gazpacho

Adapted from The New York Times

Serves 8

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 mild pepper, such as cubanelle or Anaheim peppers, cut into chunks
  • 1 cucumber, cut into chunks
  • 1 small mild onion, roughly chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 T sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup extra virgin oil olive

Puree the vegetables with the vinegar and couple large pinches of salt. Stream the oil in as the motor runs to emulsify the oil into the mixture. Add the oil until you start to see the soup change color and it coats the roof of your mouth pleasantly when you taste it. You may need to add more salt and vinegar; taste and judge accordingly. Serve with another drizzle of good olive oil and lot’s of crusty bread.

Note that as this sits in the fridge, it will start to separate. Stir well or blitz it with an immersion blender to re-emulsify before serving. A VitaMix works well for this recipe to attain that velvety smooth consistency, but an immersion blender or regular blender will work in a pinch.