Last week during Paris’ record-breaking heat wave the temperature hit 36° C or about 103°F on Wednesday. I didn’t have to look at the thermometer to know how hot it was in our apartment. When I went to put on eyeliner, the pencil had melted and left wide swaths of brown beneath my eyes. (I looked like a Patriots player on a sunny day!). Cheeses set out to come to room temp were oozing within thirty minutes, and the roses on the dining table were limp after a few hours in our un-air conditioned place.
As it turned out we had invited three American students visiting the City of Light to dinner on that hottest night of the year. So, besides setting up a small fan near the table and opening every window, I prepared a cold menu to avoid turning on the oven. A tomato gazpacho garnished with spoonfuls of icy cold cucumber granità anchored the dinner, followed by an arugula and haricots verts salad topped with chopped hardboiled eggs and sautéed chorizo. Fresh chèvres and a bowl of cherries came next, and a finale of purchased lemon tarts completed the offerings.
The soup turned out to be the star attraction of the night. What sets this classic gazpacho made with tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers apart from others is its garnish– a cucumber granità that adds an extra level of chill to the soup! It’s prepared simply by pureeing cucumbers with Perrier water, lime juice, and sherry vinegar. This duo certainly cooled our group down. No one left the table before 11 PM when we finally felt a slight breeze coming through the wide-opened windows!
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Tomato Gazpacho with Icy Cold Cucumber Granità
2 lbs tomatoes
1 medium red bell pepper
1 medium green bell pepper
1 medium cucumber
1 medium onion (5 oz ), root ends trimmed, and cut into quarters
2 medium garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/2 loaf day-old crusty country bread, such as pain de campagne
4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for sautéing the croutons
1 1/2 tbsp sherry wine vinegar
2 tsp lime juice
2 tsp Kosher or sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 ice cubes, crushed
Cucumber Granità (Recipe follows)
1. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Using a sharp knife, make an “x” on the bottom of each tomato, and add them to the pan for 20 seconds. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and, with a sharp knife, peel and discard the skins. Stem the tomatoes, then quarter lengthwise and scrape out and discard the seeds. Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl.
2. Stem the red and green peppers, then quarter lengthwise, and cut out and discard the seeds and membranes. Chop peppers coarsely and add to the bowl with tomatoes.
3. Peel the cucumber, but do not seed it. Cut it into 1/2-in rounds, and add to the bowl of vegetables, along with the onion and garlic.
4. Cut the country bread into 1/2-in thick slices and cut the slices into 1/2 in-dice to yield 3 cups bread cubes. (You may have some bread left over.) Add half of the cubes to the bowl of vegetables and reserve the other half for the garnish.
5. In a food processor or blender, process the vegetable mixture in batches until it is a slightly chunky puree, and then transfer to another large bowl. Stir in the olive oil, vinegar, lime juice, salt, and several grinds of pepper. Add the crushed ice. Cover and refrigerate the soup until icy cold, at least 3 hours or longer. (The gazpacho can be prepared 1 day ahead; keep covered and refrigerated.) The gazpacho will be chunky, but if you want to thin it add 1/2 cup or more ice water. After the soup is well chilled, taste and season with salt as needed. (Chilled soups often need extra seasoning to intensify their flavor.)
6. In a medium skillet set over medium-high heat, add enough olive oil to cover the bottom generously. When hot, add the reserved bread cubes and cook, stirring, until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove and cool, then place in a serving bowl. Leave, uncovered, at room temperature for up to 2 hours.
7. Serve the gazpacho in 4 to 5 bowls and garnish the center of each portion with a scoop of cucumber granità. Pass the croutons in a bowl.
Serves 4 to 5
1/2 cup Perrier, or other similar mineral water
3/4 tsp fresh lime juice, plus more if needed
1/4 tsp sherry wine vinegar
3/8 tsp kosher or sea salt, plus more if desired
1. Peel the cucumber but do not seed it, quarter lengthwise, and cut into 1/2-in pieces, to yield about 3/4 cup. Place in a food processor or blender along with the Perrier water, and puree until smooth. Stir in the lime juice, sherry vinegar, and salt. Pour the mixture into an 8- by 8-in Pyrex dish (or a shallow glass, freezer-proof bowl). Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer for an hour. Then, using a fork, stir the mixture to break up any frozen chunks.
2. Cover and freeze again until the mixture is firm, 2 to 3 hours more. Every 30 minutes, using a fork, stir and scrape the granità well to break it into icy flakes. Taste and add 1/4 tsp extra lime juice and salt if needed. (The granità is best used the day it is made. However, you can prepare it up to 2 days ahead. If it freezes solid, put it in the microwave to loosen it in the dish. Then break into chunks and carefully pulse in a food processor for only a few seconds to cut into flakes.) Makes about 3/4 cup.
Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2015