Sarah, my sister-in-law, once worked as an au pair for a wealthy family in Valencia in Spain. She had her hands full looking after a gaggle of children, the eldest of whom sounded like a proper little madam, and found herself awkwardly placed between Upstairs and Downstairs. Being Sarah, she befriended the maids, or they befriended her. Either way, the upside was that they taught her how to cook a range of Spanish dishes and we have been the beneficiaries ever since.
I’m not normally a huge fan of chilled soups but I make an honourable exception for gazpacho. It is of course a summer dish but I wouldn’t make it in the winter anyway. It needs the sweetest, tastiest tomatoes you can lay your hands on. Imported winter ones won’t do.
If you can get home-grown cucumbers too, so much the better. They really do taste different. Apart from that you only need some juicy green peppers, good bread and olive oil. some sweet onion and a dash of red wine vinegar and you’re good to go.
One note of caution: if you’re not eating the soup on the day you make it, omit the onion and add it an hour before serving, or it will overpower the soup and can taste a bit rank. The amounts of oil, vinegar and water depend on your preferred texture and the sweetness of the tomatoes. Add in judicious quantities and keep tasting. Slightly stale bread is best.
Ingredients for the soup:
One double handful of each of the following:
Ripe sweet tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and diced
Cucumber, peeled, de-seeded if necessary, diced
Green pepper, de-seeded and diced
Onion, either red or sweet Spanish, peeled and diced
Good quality white bread, without crusts, diced (I only had brown)
1-2 tbsp fruity olive oil, to taste
1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar, to taste
Iced water or tomato juice, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
Any or all of the following, finely diced:
Tomatoes, cucumber, red and green pepper, mild chillies, hard boiled egg, croutons fried in olive oil, parsley
Liquidise the main ingredients, adding them one at a time. With the liquidiser still running, trickle in the olive oil, until blended. Season with salt and pepper and add the vinegar cautiously, to taste.
Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled (or add ice cubes) and taste again. Adjust the seasoning and thin with iced water or tomato juice to the desired consistency.
Serve with bowls of your chosen garnishes for people to add their own at the table. Beautifully fresh and most of your five a day in one bowl.