Flash in the Pan 

Gazpacho: summer in a bowl

As a high school lad, I was the head (and only) cook at a small Harvard Square café called the Blacksmith House. We served simple fare, mostly soup, salad and the occasional special. The “Ari Special” never made it onto the menu, nor did I succeed in getting anyone to call me Chef Boy Ari, but it was a happy, educational existence—except for the time I lost my Band Aid during a lunch hour rush, but I won’t go there.

Whoa…here I am reminiscing, while at this moment outside of my window the ripe tomatoes are rolling in like thunder over the high plains. This overwhelming volume of juicy red goodness must have more than a few of you afraid of your gardens, but don’t panic. Today I’ll discuss a tomato product you can’t have too much of.

Every summer morning at the Blacksmith House, I would make a different cold soup. The most popular, by far, was gazpacho, that cold and tangy liquid spice with the myriad earth tones. Only problem was that I, like the food-snob I was yet to become, thumbed my nose at the notion of serving gazpacho that hadn’t aged at least 24 hours. So I always made gazpacho the day before, rather than “day of.” Nonetheless, the servers would sneak into the walk-in fridge and serve same-day gazpacho, probably explaining with a wink to their customers how they braved the threat of my angry cleaver to do so. I’m sure it was good, but it wasn’t ready.

All of my soups came from the Moosewood Cookbook, which sprang from the legendary restaurant of the same name in Ithaca, New York. I’m usually not big on recipes, preferring to navigate the kitchen by gut instinct. But at the Blacksmith House, with five gallons of gazpacho on the line, I wasn’t taking any chances. I got to know the Moosewood Cookbook pretty well. Its non-glossy, handwritten pages put you in the presence of greatness, and I learned much by using it.

Last week I was eating breakfast at my friend Ewan’s house, and I noticed his tattered copy of the Moosewood Cookbook. When I picked it up, the pages opened right to Fruit Soup on the left and Vichyssoise (potato leek soup) on the right—two soups I used to make. Even though it’s been 17 years, and all the food stains were in different places, I knew that if I flipped back one page I would find gazpacho.

I borrowed the book and brought it home to the lab, where I proceeded to recreate the gazpacho of my youth. There weren’t any waitresses to flirt with, and I wasn’t multiplying everything by 10, but most things hadn’t changed a bit. Like, for example, the fact that gazpacho somehow takes longer than you think it should, considering that all you do is put some stuff in a bowl and mix it. And as usual, I was tempted to stray from the printed path. But for old time’s sake, I stuck to the recipe with all my might.

The recipe called for four cups cold tomato juice and two cups diced tomatoes, but my tomatoes were so juicy that I just went with six cups of tomatoes. And rather than lose all of that juice on the cutting board, I used a blender. Ditto for the diced medium-sized cucumber, which I poured into the bowl of tomato puree. To that I added one minced onion, one teaspoon honey, a dash of cumin, a dash of hot sauce, two tablespoons olive oil, the juice of 1/2 lemon and one lime, two tablespoons wine vinegar, a minced green pepper and two chopped scallions.

I couldn’t bear to use only one clove of crushed garlic, so I substituted an undisclosed but significantly higher amount of vitamin G-spot. The recipe wanted a teaspoon each of dried basil and tarragon, but I had fresh basil, and tarragon from a jar of pickled peppers, so I used them instead—exceeding one teaspoon each, because it was fresh.

While chopping 1/4 cup parsley, a curious thing happened. The smell of the parsley combined with the smell of the rest of the gazpacho in my nose, before I had actually mixed it together. Wow. There it was again, the smell of gazpacho happening in front of me. Just then, a sunflower petal fluttered to the cutting board, having hitched a ride from the garden when I got the parsley.

It’s exciting when you finally mix it all together, but the choir of kazoo-blowing angels doesn’t instantly leap from the bowl. The complex flavor needs time to come together, making it rather difficult to add salt and pepper to taste before it’s properly aged. So my advice is to go light in this department, tasting often over the next day or so, adjusting the final seasoning as the gazpacho evolves. Back in the day, this gave me ample opportunity to linger in the walk-in fridge, sampling from the vats of cake frosting.

E-mail Chef Boy Ari: flash@missoulanews.com

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