Photo by Richard Dallett.
Triple digit heat across the Midwest and Europe. Drought in California. Wildfires throughout the West. 2015 is shaping up to be one of the most torrid summers on record, and that’s before you factor in the heat of the grill.
For years, I’ve relied on a simple remedy from the garden to beat the heat—a sort of a cross between a cold soup and salad. The Spanish call it gazpacho. I call it the most refreshing soup on Planet Barbecue.
Planet Barbecue? Yes, because when you sip gazpacho at my house, it makes a stop between the farm stand and the blender. Sometimes I grill the veggies—tomatoes, peppers, onion, garlic, cucumbers, etc.—over a screaming hot wood fire. The idea is to char the surface to impart a smoke flavor, while leaving the vegetables essentially raw in the center.
I often call smoke the “umami” of barbecue. It adds an unexpected dimension of flavor—without overpowering the pristine freshness of garden vegetables.
Here are 10 techniques to help you take grilled or smoked gazpacho over the top.
- Your gazpacho lives by the quality of the vegetables—garden or farm stand tomatoes, sweet onions (preferably with dirt still on the roots), local peppers—well, you get the idea. Do not, I repeat, do not refrigerate the tomatoes.
- When grilling the vegetables, work over a wood fire or a charcoal or gas fire enhanced by wood chips.
- To keep small vegetables, like cloves of garlic, from falling through the gaps in the grill grate, skewer them on toothpicks. Alternatively, use a grill basket.
- To keep onions from falling apart on the grill, cut them into quarters or sixths through the stem ends (keep the stems intact) and skewer each with a toothpick.
- Grill peppers whole, then cut the flesh off the core. Alternatively, grill them caveman-style—directly on the embers. The smoke flavor will astonish you.
- Many traditional Spanish recipes call for a slice of bread to be added to the gazpacho as a thickener. You’re going to toast that bread darkly on the grill.
- For a smooth gazpacho, puree the veggies in the blender. (Add the water first, then wet vegetables, like tomatoes, then finally, the onions and cucumbers.)
- For a coarse gazpacho with some texture to it, puree the veggies in a food processor. Start with the veggies and add the water gradually once they’re pureed.
- Gazpacho needs a touch of acidity to bring it into focus. For a southern Spanish touch, try a splash of sherry vinegar.
- Gazpacho lives or dies by the quality of the olive oil. Extra virgin to be sure. Preferably cold pressed and bottled within days of pressing. Excellent Spanish brands include Oro Bailen and Castillo de Canena. (I discovered both through my membership in the Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club.) Add part of the olive oil to the pureed vegetables, but save some to drizzle on top of each bowl or shooter at the moment of serving.