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The Carmen Maura special

(The gazpacho edition)


My gazpacho has some extra ingredients like herbs and chile flakes–but nothing from the medicine cabinet!

So okay, five or six posts in a row–all summer long, in fact–with no recipes. Oy. I’m sure that says something about my summer between my daughter’s bat mitzvah in late June and the day she started back to school.

Contrary to the impression of no cooking, no cooking, especially in 100 degree heat (a sane approach to life if ever there were one) I have actually done some cooking, just not a lot of new dishes. So this post is just to catch up in summary form…

The bat mitzvah Saturday night dance party for instance–I made the cake for it, a huge monster of a Sacher torte. And yes, it was Duncan Hines devil’s food cake made with applesauce instead of oil for the layers, because it’s still better than from scratch, and a lot faster. None of my friends cook at all, I’m sorry to discover, and they were all bizarrely impressed that I didn’t get my cake from Costco, so despite how dismayed and embarrassed I was that they were fawning over a box mix cake, I took it as graciously as I could and didn’t tell them. It was actually a good cake, but huge. Four, count ’em four, boxes worth of DH for a very large 4-layer cake. Way too much. Apricot fruit spread between layers, killer chocolate ganache–from scratch, but easy–on top (another post will be dedicated to the shocking true story of ganache and its many creative uses, but it’ll have to wait until it cools down out here), plus a little creative decorating with strawberries and grapes by two friends when the upper layer split on the way to the forum, right before I could frost it, and I didn’t have the brains to just flip the whole thing over.

You know how that goes: you’ve rushed over to get there before the guests arrive, you’re wearing your grubbiest can-get-chocolate-frosting-on-and-no-one-notices black teeshirt and brown pants, you’ve forgotten your party clothes and your camera. Your friends see you looking harried and sweaty in the back kitchen, wielding a tub of ganache at a cracked cake and the chocolate fumes just get to them. They rush around sticking fruit on top like it’s kindergarten craft time again. They’re hard to stop once they get going, to tell you the truth. People really liked the cake anyway, and we had leftovers for the next 10 DAYS…still working it off.

TIP: don’t stick green grapes on top of chocolate ganache, they really don’t go all that well tastewise even if they looked fun at the time.

What else in the way of summer cooking? A bowl of dough in the fridge, turned into pitas and calzones (once the sun went down far enough that I could stand to turn the oven on for 20 minutes at a hop). Did that several times.

Frittatas–omelets for the three of us with mushrooms, onions, marinated artichoke hearts and feta, or spinach and feta, or just feta and feta…a lot of those, this summer, with about half the yolks removed and not missed at all. Makes a 10-minute supper, and you get your Julia Child mojo on when you go to flip it. You get to tell everybody to give you some room and keep the cat out of egg flippin’ range. Very impressive.

What else? Hummus–yet again, I know. Although I’ve made two batches this summer using chickpea flour instead of actual cooked chickpeas. Chickpea flour is raw, so you have to mix it up with water to a thick batter and then microwave it a couple of minutes, until it’s cooked through–it’ll be pretty thick, maybe even solid, but it’ll have lost the raw-bean taste when it’s done. Then I blended it in a food processor with water, garlic, lemon juice, cumin and tehina–which was fine, actually, and very smooth…until I packed it into the fridge and took it out the next day. It had set up like tofu, sliceable and slightly gelatinous! A little weird, no doubt about it. But still edible! and quick, dammit, very quick.

Other things–eggplant parmigiana, twice or three times, and really good. No apologies necessary.

Extra eggplant slices with a surprisingly good low-sodium chipotle salsa from Trader Joe’s and some low-fat mozzarella, microwaved and slid onto toasted ciabatta or fingerbread. Worth doing again, maybe even in casserole form–half salsa, half marinara, kind of a smoky parmigiana? Could be all right.

But it’s summer, you say. Where is all the fruit? You’re not wrong. Nectarines, plums of all shapes and colors, a few apricots, a few cherries, strawberries, and figs…all of them, eaten raw. But in the way of cooking (minimally, anyhow) I made a fantastic “raw blueberry pie” a week ago, cutting back a little on the sugar in the recipe I had from the San Jose Mercury News from years back, and using the microwave to cook the “jam” part (water, potato or cornstarch, sugar, 1 cup of blueberries, stirring madly every 30 seconds to avoid the starch turning into a rubber lump, and lime juice after the fact, once it thickened) before mixing in the other 3-4 cups of blueberries raw and sticking the whole thing in a graham cracker crust and chilling it.

But summer is mostly about tomatoes. Even in California, it is really, really HARD to get good tomatoes at the supermarkets, even in summertime (don’t even ask about corn, the prices are a disgrace to the nation). Unless you go to the Armenian corner grocery (where I’m headed yet again in about 5 minutes) to pick up bags and bags of huge, ripe Fresno tomatoes for salads. For about six or seven dollars, I can get ten or even more large beefsteak-style tomatoes…and these actually taste like something. They’re not the ones that go to the supermarket, because they just don’t last. They go to the small ethnic markets because they’re too ripe, and everyone knows that the regulars don’t shop small when it comes to tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and so on. They’ll get snatched up, no problem.

So what do you do when you get a couple of tomatoes that were pretty seriously ripe to begin with and are starting to split or get poked by the stems of the other tomatoes only a couple of days later?

I make gazpacho, because it’s a 5-second soup, it’s cold, it only takes what I have in the fridge, and I know I can eat half a cup at lunch every day this coming week and feel full for hours, especially in this heat. It’s the perfect diet food.

Well that, plus the fact that it makes me feel (momentarily, anyhow) like Carmen Maura in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. It’s probably the most famous (mis-)use of gazpacho at the movies, and very funny.

Here’s her character’s explanation of what’s in it:

So the basics: tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper, onion, a clove of garlic, (olive) oil, salt, vinegar, stale bread, and water.

Of course, there’s a secret ingredient she doesn’t admit to the police–one they discover the hard way as she slowly recites the ingredients.

Traditional gazpachos involve stale bread and green bell peppers. I’m not a huge fan of either, to tell you the truth. I also like some extras–fresh herbs and a little z’khug or chile garlic paste.

To disguise the secret ingredient and turn the gazpacho into a sort of cocktail drink, Maura’s character throws the ingredients in a blender with ice and water and grinds it to a fine purée. I like mine a little coarser and thicker. But when I went to serve it the first time this season to my nearest and dearest–in commemoration of Red Dwarf’s traditional “Gazpacho Soup Day“–my husband said he thought it was supposed to be chunkier, something more like Israeli tomato and cucumber salad, but in soup form.

So really, you could grind it as fine or as coarse as you prefer, with more water or less. No water at all will give you something pretty thick and spoonable; a cup or a bit more of added water, plus ice cubes, in a blender or food processor, will give you a finer and more uniform-looking purée that’s suitable for summer sipping.

Anyway….Here, minus the packet of sleeping pills, is my version…


In a food processor or blender, grind to your preferred degree of fineness:

  • 2-3 large very-ripe tomatoes. Near-bursting is okay as long as they taste good
  • 1 cucumber, peeled (keep the seeds in, I never understand throwing them away)
  • 1-2 stalks of celery (my current version) or a red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped (traditional)
  • 1/4 medium onion
  • a clove of garlic, mashed, minced or grated
  • handful of parsley, dill, mint and/or basil leaves; a mixture is good (my addition)
  • Olive oil — a drizzle if you really want it; I’m skipping it for the moment
  • red wine vinegar, about 3-4 T or to taste (some say sherry vinegar; I say anything but balsamic. You don’t want sweet)
  • Note: I’m also skipping the salt. Instead:
  • small dab or chunk of z’khug (chile/garlic/cilantro paste) or a shake of hot pepper flakes
  • pinches of cumin and smoked paprika, optional
  • Skip the bread (I don’t think it’s that great)–if you use it, a slice will do.
  • maybe a mug of water with or without a couple of ice cubes–taste the final product and add a little more vinegar if it seems to need it.

And as the jilted wife, clad ridiculously in head-to-toe pink Chanel and waving a pair of pistols, threatens Maura’s character, beba!

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