July 29, 2010

Market Fresh

I am an avid supporter of farmer's markets, and even more so now that I've begun volunteering at one.  Saturday mornings I head down to the Little Italy Mercato where I get to talk with the purveyors, the farmers and the market-goers and everyone is so excited to be a part of this movement towards the responsibility to our food.  The weekend markets here are so very social; dogs in tow, cups of coffee in hand, pictures being snapped.  Each week brings new finds and must-haves.  There were juicy deep orange Santa Rosa (?) peaches, bunches of rainbow chard, sweet Bing and Rainer cherries, handfuls of herbs, giant Reed avocados and so much more.  Last week it was Padron peppers and Burrata cheese that I couldn't resist.  So I tucked my goods away in a makeshift cooler while I finished my shift, day dreaming of a dinner to construct.  As luck would have it, there was a pile of tomatoes on the counter at home that the warm weather was begging me to turn into gazpacho.  Mish/mash tapas night it was!

Usually when I make a gazpacho, it's more like a vegetable salsa, all chunky with coarsely blended tomatoes and peppers and cucumbers, but this time I tried something more...traditional?  A la "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown"?  Something like that, smooth and unencumbered by the flavors and textures of other vegetables.  It was purely tomatoes, warm like summer evenings and alive with the salt and vinegar.  It's hard to beat.  Except there was the Padron peppers I pan fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. (I could go on and on here about the peppers.  They're thin skinned and when you fry them up the skin gets all blistered and then they deflate.  Mostly they're mild, smokey from the pan, but every few will be surprisingly hot and still you keep on eating - skins, seeds and all.) And then there was the Burrata.  A super fresh little pouch of mozzarella, filled with cream and curds, torn and put on a toasted baguette rubbed with garlic.  Oh!  Going around the plates, each bite was better than the last.  The creamy cheese softening the heat from the peppers, the gazpacho brightening bites in between.  It has since been declared as one of the best meals ever eaten in this house.

And the only thing in this dinner that wasn't from the Mercato?  The cucumber, a smidgen of olive oil (though as of a few weeks ago, that's available to buy locally as well) and red wine vinegar.

Gazpacho Andaluz

The tomatoes are the real star here, so get the freshest, tastiest ones you can get your hands on.  You could strain this after a good whirl in the blender, but I don't mind the little pieces of skin and seeds in mine.  Garnish it with diced cucumber and avocado, even a dollop of sour cream if you're so inclined. 

makes 6 cups

3 ounces crusty bread, preferably day-old
2 pounds ripe, deep red tomatoes
1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and chopped
3-4 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup water

Tear the bread into pieces and soak in enough water to cover for 15 minutes. Squeeze out excess water and put the bread in a blender.

Chop the tomato into chunks and add to the blender with the cucumber, garlic, salt and cumin. Process until pureed and mostly smooth. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow stream, then add the vinegar. The mixture will thicken and change color as the oil emulsifies. Add the water to reach the desired consistency. Chill until serving time.

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