Saturday, August 26, 2006

Gazpacho through thick and thin

The details vary, but histories of gazpacho, the Spanish soup, converge on a few ingredients: stale bread, olive oil, water, a few handy vegetables. It was a catch as catch can kind of thing, which, in a way, it has remained. (Like tiramisu, gazpacho seems more of a suggestion than a recipe.) Tomatoes were not involved until after the Columbian Exchange. Although American foodies like to point out that the recipe showed up in The Virginia House-Wife in 1824, it really didn't take off here till the 1960s.

A few weeks ago the New York Times revisited the version Craig Claiborne offered in 1968, reprinting the recipe straight up; then it gave a version with a 21st-century twist. Since the latter involved exotic cucumber vinegar as well as a food processor, I confined my interest to the old one.

(This is the fifth installment in the cookbook series.)

The 1968 version is smooth and creamy, relying on both tomatoes and bread. It called for fresh white bread but I used stale sourdough, that being a staple at our house. The main shopping event was to get the tomatoes--German Johnsons from the Carrboro Farmers Market (preferred by Paul, who is picky about tomatoes). Great tomatoes of course are essential, at least if you are following a post-Columbian Exchange recipe.

For comparison purposes, and really for the point of the whole exercise, I pulled down Somethin's Cookin' in the Mountains: A Cookbook Guidebook to Northeast Georgia (1984) and turned to the only recipe I believe I've ever made in it: "White Gazpacho." Not white in the sense of tomato-free: white in that the base is made of white wine, stock, and lemon juice. No bread. Essentially, it's chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, and parsley swimming around in the juice.

2 c dry white wine
4 c chicken broth [vegetable]
1/2 c lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 bunch scallions [green onions]
1 bunch parsley [Italian]
3 large cucumbers [the Japanese from the farmer's market had very few seeds]
3 medium tomatoes [or fewer if your tomatoes are very large!]
Dash [splash] Tabasco
Salt to taste [omitted]
1/2 t. white pepper [forgot]

Bring the wine, chicken broth and lemon juice to a boil. Chill several hours or overnight. Chop scallions and parsley Slice cucumbers and roughly chop tomatoes. Combine all ingredients with chilled soup. Taste for seasonings. Yield: 6 servings.

Both were delicious--different, not to be judged against each other, rather enjoyed for what they are. I notice this time around that the Georgia recipe comes from the Pleasant Peasant in Atlanta, still in business. (Check it out, John, OK?)


I may never make another thing out of my Northeast Georgia cookbook. Mostly reflecting the pre-Alice Waters period, it has a high percentage of cream of chicken soup casseroles and Jello dishes. Should I photocopy this one recipe and ditch the book? Probably not. It's not valuable (even though signed by the editor); the gazpacho page is tomato-stained. But I vaguely remember Northeast Georgia trip that I bought it on, and it conjures up vague good feelings.

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