Style secrets of the French by Casilda Grigg
In high summer, when half of Paris decamp to the seaside, the pages of Madame Figaro and other French magazines are filled with recipes for gaspacho andalou. The French are soup-mad as a nation and it’s very typical to kick off the evening meal with a virtuous soup of some kind.
Gazpacho is all Iberian swagger – it has none of the pale politeness of a vichyssoise – but it’s easy to see why the French love it so. Not only is it low in calories and packed with vitamins, it tastes fabulous and is incredibly refreshing on a warm summer’s evening.
There are infinite variants on gazpacho. The Michel-starred chef Alain Ducasse adds basil, as I’ve done, while Gordon Ramsay apparently adds tomato paste. My recipe, which I learnt from a wonderful Spanish cook called Ascension when I was just 18, is very simple. I like quite a peasant version so I don’t bother peeling or deseeding the tomatoes or running the gazpacho through a sieve.
Use thick, good-quality olive oil if you can afford it, rather than a cheap supermarket label or a big industrial brand.
It’s very important to season the gazpacho properly. I use Maldon sea salt.
You will need:
7 obscenely ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 red onion, peeled and chopped
2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 large red pepper, deseeded and diced
1 small green pepper, deseeded and diced
a dash of cumin (optional)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
half a glass of olive oil (extra virgin ideally)
2 large soup spoons of sherry vinegar (red wine vinegar will do otherwise)
1 egg yolk
a few fresh basil leaves (optional)
1 slice of slightly stale crusty white bread
plenty of salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl, then tip into a food processor or blender. Whizz to the desired consistency, adding water if necessary. Taste, adding more salt/vinegar if needed (the gazpacho should have real punch!). If you like it smooth, strain it through a sieve. Refrigerate until well chilled (it keeps for two days). Do not add ice cubes unless it’s an emergency.
If you’re serving the gazpacho as a starter for a dinner party, arrange small dishes of diced tomato, cucumber, red pepper and hard-boiled egg on the table so your friends can customise their own bowls (this is a great ice breaker – people love a bit of DIY). Spanish restaurants sometimes serve it with cubes of Serrano ham and garnishes of chopped up onion but personally I’m not a fan of either in gazpacho. I like it à la française – with homemade croutons made with lashings of good-quality olive oil. Serving gazpacho with croutons is no more authentic than adding basil, but it’s absolutely delicious.
A cheat’s version
The Spanish brand Alvalle does a superbly tangy gazpacho that you can easily pass off as your own. It’s sold in red one-litre cartons for £3.99 a pop. Waitrose, unsure what gazpacho actually is, often puts it in the chilled fruit drinks section. I found mine next to the beetroot juice.