Gazpacho

One of the few ethnic communities that did not move into Soho in any force was the Spanish. There was a Spanish grocer on Old Compton Street, but that was about it. They settled around the Spanish school and church on Portobello Road instead. Maybe I’m stretching a point by including gazpacho in a book on Soho cooking, but I feel it can be justified. Firstly, this soup is a bit of a period piece: it very much belongs to the 1970s, when mass tourism to Spain introduced the British public to it for the first time. Restaurants are quick to pick up on shifts in public taste, and gazpacho soon featured on menus everywhere, including Soho. Secondly, I was learning my trade at that time in Soho, and it was another of my mother’s favourite soups (she must have been the only housewife in East Lancashire serving it in 1965). So, being a dutiful son, it featured heavily on my early menus at the Old Compton Wine Bar. Before opening Frith Street in 1985 I worked in the Portobello Road area and rediscovered the joys of Spanish food, helped by the excellent Garcia delicatessen there. Consequently gazpacho went back on the menu the following summer, where it has stayed, on our rare sunny, hot days. Thirdly, Spanish food is all the rage in the vast amount of trendy new restaurants serving eclectic (or is it fusion?) food in Soho today. If they serve gazpacho, I can include it here. Even ‘state of the art’ French restaurants serve something they call Sauce gazpacho, which I believe is often paired with shellfish. Perhaps the only European restaurants not to serve the soup at all were Italian, which is a bit surprising, because virtually all the chefs working in them in the 1970s were Spanish.

This soup is not a particularly easy one to get just right because the strength of the various ingredients can vary. Please adjust to suit your tastes.

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Ingredients

  • 2 slices good-quality white bread, preferably stale, crusts removed
  • 1 onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 1 fresh red pepper, seeded
  • 1 × 500 g tin chopped tomatoes
  • ½ cucumber, with half the skin and all the seeds removed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  • 500 ml iced water

Method

If the bread is stale moisten with a little water then squeeze out (this softens it so don’t bother if using fresh). Pack your food processor with all the ingredients, except the water and garnish. Salt generously and work to a nearly smooth pulp. Add the iced water and chill for a minimum of 6 hours, preferably longer.

Prepare the garnishes according to the ingredients list. You will need to fry the bread cubes in a little olive oil until golden, then drain on kitchen paper.

Garnish

  • 2 slices white bread, crusts discarded, cut into small dice
  • olive oil
  • 4 plum tomatoes, skinned, seeded and cut into small dice
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and chopped
  • 1 red onion, peeled and finely diced
  • 5 mint leaves, finely shredded
  • very good-quality extra virgin olive oil

Serving

Serve the soup in chilled soup plates with the garnishes offered separately in small bowls. Offer the good extra virgin olive oil as a condiment, to sprinkle on the surface of the soup.

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