Aspen Times Weekly: Stay Cool
Adapted from “Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America” by José Andrés with Richard Wolffe (Clarkson Potter, 2005). For extra texture, blend only half of the vegetables to start; dice remaining vegetables and add them to the puréed soup in Step 3.
1 small cucumber, peeled and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 Tablespoons sherry vinegar, more if desired
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
French bread, warmed, for serving
1. Combine first six ingredients plus 2 cups water in a food processor or blender.
2. Purée until ingredients are well blended (mixture will be pink). Depending on the strength of your blender, this may need to be done in batches.
3. Pour gazpacho through a medium-hole strainer into a pitcher, and refrigerate an hour (overnight preferably).
4. Season with salt, and serve with warm French bread.
“WAIT, HOW MUCH is the soup again?” I was standing at the counter of a small, family-owned deli in Aspen, and the cashier had just asked me to hand over $22.50 for soup and a sandwich. I knew that the Italian sub cost about ten bucks plus tax, but the soup, too? For lunch? No wonder working-class locals are still pining over McDonald’s closing.
I pushed the gazpacho — pre-packaged in a 16-ounce deli container that wasn’t even filled to the top, I might add — back across the counter and told the girl I’d stick with the sandwich.
“That’s pretty steep for raw tomato soup,” I said, feeling compelled to offer up something in self-defense. The guy building my sandwich nodded. I mean, really? Gazpacho doesn’t require simmering for hours over a hot stove. All that’s needed to develop complex, garlicky flavors is a handful of raw vegetables and herbs, which are whizzed together in a blender and left to refrigerate overnight. Some versions call for a slice of stale bread or emulsification to a creamy consistency with olive oil, but other than that, gazpacho means minimal effort for maximum result.
Gazpacho also takes advantage of summer produce at its peak. When chef José Andrés prepared his wife’s simple recipe at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen a few years ago, he called it “the best salad in the history of mankind.”
Back in the market, the atmosphere turned awkward. Not only did I decline the $10 cup of soup, but I was shamed for it. “All of the prices are on the menu,” I heard a lady — presumably a manager —slicing prosciutto grumble. I couldn’t quite make out what else she said, but I got the gist. She was griping in response to my gripe: Why would gazpacho be priced on par with far more labor-intensive chicken soup or white bean chili?
This is a fine example of how contradictory dining out in this town can be: The same folks who whine about exorbitant, unfair prices in Aspen might be the same people serving overpriced, underwhelming dishes to the masses. I mean, really: Is the deli clerk OK with shelling out $22.50 on her lunch break? I wonder.
I paid for my lunch and made a fast exit, more than mildly annoyed. Cold soups are popular on summer menus elsewhere in town. Spring Café serves gazpacho for $6/cup or $8/bowl; included in the price of admission is a relaxing atmosphere in which to sit. Ditto with the cool cantaloupe soup on special at La Creperie du Village: new executive chef Sebastien Chamaret’s pale orange fruit purée ($12) is velvety smooth, cut with a ribbon of acidic, sweet balsamic vinegar swirled into the bottom of the bowl. Slurped between sips of rosé beneath an umbrella on the shaded patio, it’s the ultimate pastel-colored liquid lunch.
Similarly, I’ll gladly fork over $12 for chilled pea soup with buttermilk, mint, and toasted pumpernickel croutons at element 47 at The Little Nell — and I’m not even a big fan of peas! Chef Matt Zubrod’s creamy green creation is a dream to taste while sitting on the hotel’s well-appointed poolside patio with living wall garden art.
Determined to make gazpacho at home after that disheartening encounter at the deli, I found a recipe for creamy Gazpacho Andaluz — a signature of the Andalusia region of Spain, thought to boast ancient origins in the Roman Empire — via Cook’s Illustrated. The recipe requires a few additional steps — salting the vegetables and reserving half, cut in small dice, to add texture to the final product; soaking stale bread in the drained vegetable juice; pressing the puréed portion through a fine-mesh sieve for silky texture — but it left me with enough gazpacho (about 6 cups) to eat every night for almost a week and cost less than 10 bucks total. Even with the extra steps, I was out of the kitchen after approximately 25 minutes of hands-on prep.
Chef Andrés’s super-easy version, at right, eschews bread (not to mention extra steps) but turns creamy thanks to olive oil. I combine elements from both recipes to create my own version; add a few dashes of Tabasco if you like it spicy. Best of all, like most cold soup, it only gets better the longer it chills.
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Perhaps it’s because we are in the abbreviated days of winter and I instinctively know that the sun is shining down-under. But every January I go through a nostalgic period where Australian wine dominates my mind.