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Once Bitten, Forever Loved

June 18, 2014

It’s that time of the year--the official time of the tomato!  Red, green, or gold; sweet or tart, but always plump and juicy--just ripe tomatoes are what we dream of when the season is lean, and cold abounds.  And many of us, picky, and with strict standards about the quality of our fresh tomatoes, often just do without, or open a can and count the days. Yes, there are the greenhouse tomatoes and hydroponic tomatoes, and with sunny weather somewhere there’s always a supply.  Still, tomatoes at the pinnacle of their seasonal best in the early summer are

unmatched.

 

Although the Italians have been growing tomatoes since the 1500s, it may be surprising to know that tomatoes are native to the Americas, specifically South America.  The word tomato is a modification of tomati, a word used by the Indians of Mexico.  Many historians believe Thomas Jefferson brought tomato seeds back from Europe to plant at Monticello, although it’s not clear if that is the case.  It is documented that Jefferson grew and served tomatoes at his Virginia estate, though.

 

Early colonists believed tomatoes to be poisonous, as the plant is a member of the nightshade family,  which has some poisonous species.  At some point in our agricultural history, fortunate for us, a brave forager discovered that tomatoes would not kill you.  By 1824, there were 17 recipes for tomatoes included in one of the first American cookbooks entitled The Virginia Housewife by Mary Randolph, including a recipe for “Gaspacha.”  So how did it get from Spain to Virginia? Food historian Karen Hess says that Mary Randolph's sister lived in Spain and probably passed it on to her

 

Gazpacho is a cold tomato soup associated with Spanish cuisine, with its beginnings tracing back to the Andalusian region of the country.  Interestingly, a fundamental ingredient of this ancient soup, with versions dating to the early Grecians and Romans, is not tomato, but bread.  Many early recipes for gazpacho are a white version containing bread, water, garlic, vinegar and oil. These primitive recipes represent a poetic example of the beginnings of the art of food, of making something delicious out of almost nothing.  Around the 16th century tomato seeds arrived in Spain. Since then, red gazpacho, made delicious with the absolute best tomatoes you can find, has become the most popular version.

 

Gazpacho, like so many popular foods, can have a bad image when presented as a bland bowl of tomato juice or an equally disappointing combination of chopped unripe tomatoes and spongy cucumbers.  The real thing is a celebration of freshness and simplicity. In the summertime, when the heat can discourage even going near a stove, and when the star of this dish is at its peak, it’s the perfect time to give my recipe for Gazpacho with Avocado and Bell Pepper Relish a try.

 

 

 

 

Spanish Gazpacho with Avocado and Bell Pepper Relish

Serves 6 to 8

 

2 pounds ripe tomatoes—peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped, or one 28-ounce can best-quality plum tomatoes, chopped

1 medium onion, preferably a sweet variety such as Vidalia or Walla Walla, coarsely chopped

1 large cucumber, peeled

2 slices of country-style white bread, crust removed

1 1/4 cups blanched slivered almonds

1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped

2 scallions or green onions, coarsely chopped

3 garlic cloves

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Spanish paprika

½ teaspoon sugar or sugar substitute

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar

1 to 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce

1/2 chilled tomato juice or cold water, as needed

 

In a large bowl, stir together the tomatoes, onion, cucumber, bread, almonds, bell peppers, scallions or green onions, garlic, salt, pepper, paprika and sugar. Working in 2-cup batches, whirl the mixture in a blender until finely chopped but not pureed. Return the mixture to the bowl and stir in the oil, vinegar, and hot pepper sauce. Add enough of the cold tomato juice or cold water, a tablespoon at a time,  to make the gazpacho soupy but not too thin. 

 

Cover the bowl and refrigerate the soup until very cold, at least a couple of hours or for up to 2 days. Stir the gazpacho and ladle it into bowls, or pour it at the table from a wide-mouth pitcher. Garnish with the Avocado and Bell Pepper Relish.

 

Avocado and Bell Pepper Relish

 

1 ripe peeled avocado, diced 

1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper 

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro 

1 tablespoon finely chopped purple onion

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice 

 

Combine all of the ingredients together until well-combined. Top the soup with the relish.

 

Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children's author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is "The Kitchen Diva's Diabetic Cookbook." Her website is www.divapro.com.   To see how-to videos, recipes and much, much more, Like Angela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Facebook and go to Hulu.com. Read Gina Harlow's Blog about food, gardening, and horses at www.peachesandprosciutto.com.  Recipes may not be reprinted without permission from Angela Shelf Medearis.  (c) 2014 King Features Synd., Inc., and Angela Shelf Medearis

 

 

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