Cold Summer Soups

BY AMANDA CUMMINS

There is something about summer which seduces the taste buds. It is the time for cold soup. In some cases, these soups are gloriously subtle or, in others, they carry a zing of flavour.

Thinking about it the other day, there is an element of a Farrow & Ball paint chart attached to these soups, ranging from the darkest forest green to an opalescent cream. I have created my own range of colours, which include:

Spinach
Minted pea
Watercress
Avocado
Cucumber
Almond
Vichyssoise

Inter alia, and a rather sweeping statement: men are odd. A friend’s husband professes to having a phobia about cold soup, and that being presented with a bowl of chilled summer soup is his idea of hell. When I pointed out that he will happily lap up spinach soup (essentially, the same recipe) in the winter, I was told I’d missed the point: “it’s hot, not some ridiculous cold concoction”.

My colour chart falls apart with the arrival of gazpacho. There is no gentle greenness, no subtlety of flavour, no pretensions to sophistication, just robust flavour in all its redness. And I love it. It’s something we had a lot in Trinidad – perhaps because of the island’s Spanish past. Who knows?

The origins of gazpacho go back to Roman times, particularly in Spain and Portugal. Stale bread, garlic, olive oil and vinegar were pounded together in a pestle and mortar, and water added. It was a peasant soup or, sometimes, with the consistency of what today we would call a dip. Tomatoes were added – one assumes because of a tomato glut, and it seemed a good idea – to this basic amalgamation of ingredients. Centuries on, and glorious gazpacho ranks high on my list of flavoursome balm.

Gazpacho has no defined recipe, other than the basic components. Going to restaurants in, say, Menorca, you will find a different version in every place. Some are creamy and smooth, some are chunky and rustic. However, the taste is basically the same. And a chilled bowl of gazpacho sings as if a summer siren.

My easy version, with no attention to quantities, requires no nonsensical skinning of fresh tomatoes, deseeding them and pressing through a conical sieve. A liquidiser or hand-held blender is important, though, but beware using a food processor because it creates a very peculiar texture.

A can of good quality crushed tomatoes
Half a cucumber, chopped into chunks
One red pepper, chopped into chunks
2 or 3 spring onions, trimmed of most of the green stalk and roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic (to reduce possible bitterness of raw garlic, blanch the garlic first)

Blitz the above ingredients. Then add a slice of torn apart not-quite-fresh bread, together with water. Blitz again.

The quantity of water is very imprecise, and depends on your preferred consistency.
Add a splash of red wine vinegar and a similar quantity of olive oil, with a soupcon of sugar. Blitz again. Taste! Add salt and freshly ground pepper before a final blitz.
Chill the soup.

When serving, scatter the top of each bowl with finely diced, deseeded fresh tomatoes, finely diced cucumber (skin removed), finely diced red pepper and a sprinkling of croutons. For a final flourish, if you’re feeling arty, a few basil leaves.

While my friend’s husband would disagree, this summer soup could not be more delicious.

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