salmorejo cordobés, gazpacho’s country cousin
The first Michigan tomatoes of the season are starting to ripen, and one of my favorite things to do with them is to make gazpacho, the chilled soup that’s a summery blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, garlic and bread, enriched with olive oil and spiked with sherry vinegar. In the States (or at least in my neck of the woods), our love of Mexican food has caused mutations to appear, usually in the form of adding cilantro, jalapeños or lime juice, making a tasty soup but one that is much more akin to salsa than a true gazpacho. The tendency here is also to serve gazpacho chunky rather than smooth. Although I don’t necessarily dislike these alterations, my one pet peeve is that many of these salsa-like creations don’t even include gazpacho’s signature ingredient (the bread!), often making them too acidic to eat a whole bowlful.
On our travels through Andalusia, I had an opportunity to sample lots of gazpacho, typically puréed to a smoothie-like consistency and served in a wine glass. I was in heaven, but Marvin didn’t care for the gazpacho in Spain, preferring the chunky Americanized versions he was used to from home. He did, however, take a shine to salmorejo cordobés, which we found on tapas menus throughout the south. Salmorejo (pronounced sal-mo-REH-ho; “cordobés” means “from Cordoba”) has the same base components as gazpacho- tomatoes, bread, olive oil, garlic and sherry vinegar- but is more pared-down, skipping the other vegetables and using a higher proportion of bread. It is served perfectly smooth, never chunky, and has a creamy, almost pudding-like consistency that you could practically stand a spoon in. Unlike its sippable cousin, it is served in shallow cazuelas (small earthenware dishes), and instead of being garnished with chopped vegetables, it gets diced Serrano ham and, sometimes, chopped hard boiled egg. When I posted the photo above on Instagram, a couple of friends wanted to know “what’s the spread?”, and it does appear more like a dip or spread than a soup. Regardless, paired with some good olives, a hunk of sheep cheese and a little bread, I can’t think of a better late-afternoon snack to consume with a crisp glass of Verdejo or Blanco de Rueda.
For this year’s annual Gourmet Underground picnic on Belle Isle, I decided to share this new-to-me dish as my potluck contribution, along with some sangria. It may not be typical picnic food, but it is nice for a potluck in that the soup itself is vegan, and you can serve the egg and ham on the side for the vegetarians and carnivores. I blended two recipes, one from Bon Appetit and the other from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Spain, to achieve the texture and flavor of what we’d had in Spain. My friend Natasha who is half Spanish (her mother is even from Cordoba!) gave it the thumbs up, and judging from all the empty cups at the picnic, others seemed to agree. So instead of gazpacho this summer, consider changing it up and giving its rustic cousin salmorejo a whirl in your blender.
Prep time: 40 minutes plus standing
Cook time: N/A
Serves 8 as an appetizer or tapa
- 2 cups water at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 7 or 8 ounces white bakery bread such as baguette or Italian, preferably day-old, roughly torn into pieces
- 1 ½ lbs chopped tomatoes (about 4 cups), seeded and, if you want a really smooth soup, peeled
- 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for drizzling
- 1 ½ to 2 Tbs sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
- ½ to ¾ tsp superfine or powdered sugar
- 2 hard-boiled eggs
- ¼ lb Serrano ham, cut in a slice about ¼” thick (prosciutto may be substituted)
- extra virgin Spanish olive oil (if you have a really nice one stashed away, now’s the time to use it)
Although this is a fairly quick preparation, it’s best to make it at least a few hours ahead so that the flavors can blend. If your bread is not stale, you can put it in a very low oven to dry it out a bit- you don’t want it to toast or brown though so just keep an eye on it. Outside of tomato season it’s fine to use good-quality canned Italian plum tomatoes.
Combine the water and salt in a large bowl and stir to dissolve the salt. Put the bread in the water, tossing to moisten; let sit for about 30 minutes while you prep the remainder of your ingredients.
If desired, peel the tomatoes- probably not necessary unless they have very thick skins. Remove the seeds and roughly chop the flesh. Crush the garlic with the flat side of a knife and roughly chop it. Chop the egg and ham into small dice and reserve in the refrigerator.
Squeeze as much water as possible from the bread, reserving the liquid. Put bread in blender or food processor with remaining ingredients, starting with the lesser amounts of vinegar and sugar. Blend until completely smooth, stopping to stir and scrape down sides as needed. The result is supposed to be thick, but if it’s too thick to even blend, you can add a little of the reserved bread soaking water. Taste for seasoning, adding kosher or sea salt to taste and the additional sugar and vinegar if you desire.
Refrigerated until chilled- preferably at least a couple hours so that the flavors can blend. Check seasoning again before serving. Serve in small ramekins or cazuelas topped with the egg, ham and a drizzle of olive oil.