ou know I love to cook with whatever I see in the fridge that turns me on. I’m also guided, as most of us are, by the weather and the season.
That means cold soups in summer, warm, filling soups in winter, and soups with anything that’s growing and fresh in between.
As the July side of summer nears, my stash of tomatoes, beets, basil, lemons, sweet melons, and cucumbers is close at hand.
Among cold soups, gazpacho is my favorite, living as we do about twenty minutes from the Spanish border, with Catalonia and Andalusia a few hours’ drive away (a trip we can begin to contemplate making as COVID loosens its grip).
The Andalusian version of gazpacho is called Salmorejo, and contains bread and almonds, both of which have permanent resident status in my fridge. But the plain and simple gazpacho base of tomato, onion, cucumber, and cilantro is a good start for the exotics to follow.
This particularly odd soup started as potato salad, the potatoes having been dug out of my garden in abundance. But because they were so new, the potato salad I used them for was a bit less firm than I like. Into a soup they went!
As broth, I used leftover salted beet juice — which is supposed to be great for your liver, and which I drink cold. I added a few loose fridge items and voilà — a lovely cold soup that last summer helped beat back the dog days of southern France (and these dogs love the 40s, or the 100s, if you live in the non-Celsius universe).
The first trick is finding a bunch of really sweet anic beets (thank you, local market), four or five at least. Wash them well, quarter them, and simmer them in salted water until tender, not too long or they’ll lose their flavor. Chop or slice the beets with lemon juice and salt and eat them alone or in salads. Then cool the broth and drink a bit, using the rest as broth for this crazy soup.
With the market now tempting us with fresh garlic and spectacular tomatoes, early summer is also the time to whiz up one of the world’s best summer starters.
- 2 cups of leftover potato salad
- 4 cups beet juice
- 1 small sweet onion, chopped
- 2 large tomatoes
- 1 fresh garlic clove
- 1-2 long cucumbers, peeled and chopped coarse
- Large handful of fresh cilantro
- A few fresh basil leaves
- Juice of a large lemon
- Dash of red wine vinegar (the Spaniards use the vinegar from Jerez sherry, I use my 150-year-old Sicilian brew, but any red wine vinegar will do)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
— Pour the beet juice over the potato salad, add the onion and simmer for 10 minutes.
— In the top of a food processor, put any beets you have not eaten (!) and the rest of the ingredients and purée until very smooth.
— Serve cold with croutons or a dollop of yogurt in each dish.
For the famous Salmorejo, scratch the beets and potatoes, hence no simmering, and purée the rest of the ingredients, adding a half cup of grilled almonds and one or two small commercial toasts to thicken the mix.
For an especially refined gazpacho, rub the puréed soup through a sieve, saving the residue to eat on bruschetta, or simply with a spoon to get your vitamins for the day.
The smooth silky final product may be enhanced by whizzing in a piece or two of melon and a bit more pepper.