Unforgettable Strawberry Gazpacho
This weekend, some friends with a beautiful garden apartment and impeccable taste in entertaining helped me fulfill a long-standing fantasy: a dinner party featuring my favorite ingredient. Strawberries.
Strawberries are my favorite food. Not my favorite fruit, not my favorite berry. My favorite food. Period.
Perfectly ripe in-season strawberries are heaven. When I was a girl, my mother would pile us all into the station wagon, drive a few minutes out to a farm, and we’d pick them ourselves. All us kids swore we weren’t eating as many as we picked, but our crimson fingers told another story.
The berries that weren’t perfectly ripe we sliced and macerated for a few hours in a bit of sugar, then ate over vanilla ice cream. The contrast of the tart berries with the sweet cream was incredible to me; I’d ration the berries in my bowl so I’d have sweet and tart together in every single bite.
The crowning achievement of every strawberry season was a fresh strawberry pie. My mother would blind-bake a buttery homemade pie crust. When it was cool, she’s pour instant banana pudding into the bottom, spreading it into a thin layer, then put the pie back in the fridge for the pudding to set. In the meantime, she’d mix fresh sliced berries with strawberry Jell-O. When it was half set, she poured it into the pie, and chilled the whole thing.
The finished pie had a fridge life of exactly one day. I loved it.
For my dinner party, I considered recreating this sentimental favorite, but it seemed imprudent. So I started researching other ways to serve strawberries.
Desserts were no problem. I was more interested in the challenge of strawberries in savory dishes. After a couple of weeks of thinking, research and recipe trials, I stumbled upon this incredible gem.
This strawberry gazpacho recipe came with lots of glowing recommendations, but it also came with another no-no: its base was stale bread. No surprise there; stale bread is the foundation of gazpacho, an ancient Andalusian dish which, before the arrival of tomatoes from the New World, was always white, not red. Stale bread, some vinegar, garlic. Most cultures with bread traditions have a stale-bread soup like this one; it is basic peasant food for very poor people.
With the arrival of the Moors in Spain, almonds became part of the local diet and, ground, an ingredient in gazpacho. It’s hard to imagine all this while eating a contemporary tomato-based gazpacho, but once you taste this, everything will fall into place.
When I saw the strawberry gazpacho recipe, I knew it would succeed with almonds in place of the bread. I substituted slivered, skinless almonds in the same quantity as the bread, ran a single trial, and actually hooted when I tasted it. It is neither overtly sweet nor tomato-y; it is complex but subtle, refreshing, and, in my adaptation, perfectly Paleo.
Strawberry Gazpacho, adapted from Five and Spice
This recipe makes a LOT of soup; enough for at least six people, generously. Halve it for a smaller audience. When you serve it, present it in shallow bowls, and garnish it just before tucking in. Use only local, in-season berries.
- 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, kept whole, but peeled and crushed
- 1 1/2 cups sliced almonds
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 6 cups strawberries, hulled and quartered
- 2 1/4 cups cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and diced (I quartered the cucumbers lengthwise and just sliced out a strip containing the seeds from each quarter. Then dice.)
- 1 1/4 cups red bell pepper, diced
- 3/4 cup yellow bell pepper, diced
- 2 Tbs. tomato paste mixed into 4 Tbs. water
- 3 Tbs. red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- basil leaves, freshly ground black pepper, and olive oil, for serving
1. Heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a medium-small saute pan over medium-high heat. Add in 1 clove of garlic, and when it starts to sizzle add the sliced almonds and thyme. Cook, stirring, until you can just smell the almonds. Do not let them brown or burn. Discard the garlic clove and thyme and put the almonds into a large bowl.
2. Add the remaining garlic clove, the strawberries, cucumbers, peppers, 1/2 cup olive oil, tomato-paste water, vinegar, and salt to the bowl. Toss everything to combine, then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave to marinate at room temperature for 3-6 hours.
3. After 3-6 hours, puree the mixture together in small batches until very smooth.
4. Before serving, taste and adjust the salt and vinegar if desired. Serve sprinkled with basil leaves, black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil on each bowl.