My first kitchen job involved making six gallons of gazpacho every Sunday. This was back when earning your chops meant something, and making that whole batch with just a knife and peeler — no blender — was the most tedious task on my list.
It was also the most popular dish on the menu. By the time I learned that recipe by heart, I figured I knew everything there was to know about cold Spanish soups.
When I finally made it to Spain, reality set in on many levels. Sangria, it turns out, is just for tourists, while the locals drink a mix of red wine and Sprite called tinto de verano.
Spanish gazpacho, meanwhile, is a lot smoother than my version. And because it’s so involved to make, with an entire garden’s worth of vegetables to prepare, it’s often reserved for special occasions or when company comes over. But when the average Spaniard wants to whip up a quick cold soup at home — or have a chilled bowl at the local bar — it’s much more likely to be salmorejo.
Composed of tomatoes, garlic, oil, vinegar, salt and bread crumbs — a much pared-down cast compared to gazpacho — with salmorejo, we are free to focus all of our attention on the tomatoes.
Salmorejo has a body that jiggles like sea foam, thanks to the emulsion of tomatoes, oil and vinegar, which is thickened by the tomato-soaked bread. Some recipes call for the “guts” of a baguette. I’ve also had good luck cutting the edges off a slice of bread — usually white, but whole-grain adds a fun heartiness once in a while.
High-acid, normal-looking red tomatoes are traditionally used, but some of my best batches have been mutts, medleys of whatever heirloom, slicer, cherry and paste tomatoes are getting too soft for salad.
I was in Spain when COVID-19 hit. On the last afternoon before the lockdown, it didn’t quite seem real. In Lanjarón, a cute mountain village in Andalusia, it was business and leisure as usual. As my kids enjoyed a playground that would be roped off for months the very next morning, I ducked into a cafe and ordered a bowl of salmorejo. It came out immediately, garnished with chopped hard-boiled egg and jamon, or Spanish cured ham.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that bowl of salmorejo would be my last taste of normalcy for months, not to mention my last restaurant meal. Cooped up in our rented house during the lockdown, I began to understand the wisdom of keeping a pitcher of salmorejo in the fridge. It’s as much an act of preparation for the inevitable heat of the day as it is a response to ever-accumulating soft tomatoes and stale bread, one problem solving another.
Here is a boilerplate salmorejo recipe. Tweak it to suit your own whims and tastes, but only adjust the levels of the called-for ingredients. If you start adding things, you’ll have a bready gazpacho in no time.
Boil a pot of salted water deep enough to submerge your tomatoes.
While the water heats, cut a cross into the bottom of each tomato to slice the skins. Then gut the bread, which is a lot less messy than gutting a fish or deer.
Boil the tomatoes in the water for about two minutes, then immediately plunge them into an ice bath until they’re completely cool. Remove the tomatoes and pull off the skins. If you want to go the extra mile, cut open the tomatoes and remove the seeds.
Liquify the tomatoes in a blender for about 30 seconds. Add the bread and liquify again. Let the blended bread sit for about five minutes in the blended tomatoes.
Add the garlic, salt, vinegar and oil. Blend on high for a minute. Check seasonings and blend again if you made any adjustments.
Chill. Garnish with chopped hard-boiled egg and jamon if you want to be traditional. More casually, a simple splash of olive oil or a sprinkle of fresh parsley will complete the dish.
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