Along with those very first sun?warmed strawberries, and the increased opportunities for ice-cream consumption, chilled soup is for me one of the culinary pleasures of the summer – so ridiculously light and refreshing, it’s halfway between a square meal and a quick snifter. None, perhaps, is better for this purpose than gazpacho: the salad you can swallow in gallons.
Prep 20 min
Soak 20 min
Chill 30 min
100g slightly stale, crusty and preferably white bread
1kg very ripe tomatoes
1 ripe red pepper and 1 green pepper
1 medium cucumber
2 garlic cloves
150ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to serve
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt and black pepper, to taste
To garnish (all optional)
8 black or green olives
½ red, yellow or green pepper
1 mild chilli
2 sprigs mint or parsley, picked
2 slices cured ham
1 The ingredients are paramount
The single most important step of this recipe is sourcing the ingredients. If your tomatoes and peppers aren’t really ripe, there’s no point making it, because they have nothing to hide behind here. Along with the serving temperature, that’s why this is a dish to save for high summer, and then gorge yourself on for a few short weeks.
2 Soak the bread
Put the bread in a shallow bowl, cover with cold water, then leave to soak for 20 minutes – very fresh or soft bread will just dissolve to mush, so if you haven’t managed to find any stale or particularly crusty stuff, give it a quick toast beforehand, to dry it out a bit.
3 Prepare the tomatoes and peppers
Roughly dice the tomatoes – don’t worry about seeding or skinning them, because everything will be sieved out later – and deseed and dice the peppers. (Note: I like its herbaceous bitterness, but if you’re one of those people who hates green pepper, use two red ones instead.)
4 Add the cucumber, bread and oil, then blend
Peel and dice the cucumber, and put it in a blender or food processor with the tomatoes and peppers. Peel and crush the garlic, and add that, too, then squeeze out and tear in the bread. Finish with the olive oil and whizz smooth. (Alternatively, use a large bowl and a stick blender to do the same thing.)
5 Sieve, stir in the vinegar and chill
Pass the soup through a fine sieve, discard the solids, then stir in the vinegar and season to taste with salt. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled – I think it’s much nicer cold than at room temperature, but you can eat it immediately, if you prefer.
6 Ready to eat … or to bulk up
You can serve the soup just as it is, with perhaps a swirl of olive oil and a little black pepper to finish, but if you want to make a whole meal out of it, add some more substantial garnishes. Pick a couple from the following options, or add them all if you want to show off.
7 Add eggs …
Put two eggs in a pan of cold water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer, then cook for seven and a half minutes. Dunk in cold water until cool enough to handle, then peel. Finely dice the egg, mixing together the whites and yolks, and season lightly.
8 Prepare some olives and garnish …
Stone and finely chop eight black or green olives. Peel a quarter-cucumber, cut in half lengthways, discard the seeds and watery core, then finely dice the flesh. Deseed and dice half a red, yellow or green pepper, or even a mild chilli. Roughly chop the leaves from two sprigs of mint or parsley. Thinly slice two spring onions. Cut two slices of cured ham into thin strips.
9 To serve
Divide the chilled soup between four bowls, scatter all or some of these toppings artistically across the top (bearing in mind that some of them will sink fairly quickly), and finish with a dash of olive oil and a little freshly ground black pepper. Alternatively, put all the garnishes on the table for people to help themselves as they wish.