Winner of the James Beard/ KitchenAid Cookbook of the Year 2000 and Winner of the Beard Award for the Best Writing on Food 2000.
September 28, 2023
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Mangia Bene

    There are two Andalusias, the country-side and the seacoast--and represented by gazpacho from the country and pescados fritos (fried fish) from the sea. Gazpacho is a liquid salad from the southern Spanish region of Andalusia, made of ripe tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, and bread moistened with water that is blended with olive oil, vinegar, and ice water and served cold. It is Andalusia's best known dish and probably originated as a soup during the time when Spain was part of the Islamic world in the Middle Ages, a soup the Spanish call an ajo blanco, which contained garlic, almonds, bread, olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Ajo blanco is today associated with Málaga and made with fresh grapes. The Marquesa de Parabere claims, in Historia de la gastronomia, that garlic soup, sopa de ajo, constitutes one of Spain's two contributions to soup making, the other being cocida or olla, which migrated to France as pot-au-feu. The most familiar versions are those from Seville and Córdoba, and the oldest version is probably from Córdoba and was made of bread, garlic, oil, and water. Gazpacho comes in a variety of different intraregional versions, some of which contain almonds, and no tomatoes and peppers (tomatoes and peppers came to gazpacho after Columbus). Some food writers believe that a dish which has vinegar points to Roman provenance, whose culinary culture popularized vinegar. This seems a little too much of a generalization, though.

     Gazpacho is traditionally made in a mortar and the bread is ideal when it is about a week old. The bread and vegetable mixture is pounded to a paste, and then you begin to add the tomatoes, then the olive oil, and finally the vinegar, tasting all the time to make sure you've got it right. The tomatoes should always go through a sieve so there are no seeds in the finished dish.

     The emergence of the popularity of gazpacho out of Andalusia into the rest of Spain is said by Alicia Rios and Lourdes March, authors of Spanish cookbooks, to be the result of Eugenia de Montijo, the wife of the French Emperor Napoleon III in the nineteenth century. Gazpacho was unknown, or little known, in the north of Spain before about 1930. And it is not always liquid, nor does it always contain tomatoes. According to Juan de la Mata in his Arte de reposteria published in 1747, the most common gazpacho was known as capon de galera consisting of a pound of bread crust soaked in water and put in a sauce of anchovy bones, garlic, and vinegar, sugar, salt and olive oil and letting it soften. Then one adds "some of the ingredients and vegetables of the Royal Salad [a salad composed of various fruits and vegetables]." Interestingly, capon de galera is thought to be an historical predecessor to the Sicilian caponata.

     An American cookbook published in 1963 tells us that "gazpacho, the soup-salad of Spain, has become an American food fashion." The author, Betty Wason, goes on to tells us that in Mary Randolph's The Virginia Housewife published in 1824, there is a recipe for gazpacho. The French poet and critic, Théophile Gautier (1811-72) wrote about gazpacho, too.

     There is also gazpacho de antequera, made with homemade mayonnaise blended with lemon juice and egg whites and pounded garlic and almonds; gazpacho de Granada is made with pounded garlic, cumin, salt, bell peppers, and tomatoes, with olive oil added until creamy, then water and bread go on top. Gazpacho de la serrania de Huelva, from the mountainous country around Huelva, is a puree of garlic, paprika, onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers with sherry vinegar and olive oil stirred in until creamy and served with cucumber and croutons. Salmorejo Córdobés (also translated as rabbit sauce) is made with garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, and moistened bread pounded into a paste, with olive oil stirred in until it has the consistency of a puree. It is served with eggs, oranges, and toasted bread. Sopa de almendras is an almond soup; gazpacho caliente uses hot peppers. There are also gazpachos with green beans or pine nuts.

      The origin of the word gazpacho is uncertain, but etymologists believe it might be derived from the Mozarab word caspa, meaning "residue" or "fragments," an allusion to the small pieces of bread and vegetables in a gazpacho soup. On the other hand, it may be a pre-Roman Iberian word modified by the Arabic. One will hear a lot about Mozarab when speaking of historic Andalusia. "Mozarab" is a corruption of the Arabic must'arab, "would-be Arab," those Hispano- Romans who were allowed to practice their religion on condition of owing their allegiance to the Arab caliph as opposed to the muwalladun, Hispano-Romans who converted to Islam.

     José Briz, who wrote a book on gazpacho, also suggests that the word derives from the Hebrew gazaz, meaning to break into pieces, referring to the bread base. Gazpacho was traditionally eaten by workers in the fields, whether they were vineyards, olive plantations, citrus groves, wheat fields or cork farms. Originally gazpacho was nothing but bread, water, and olive oil, all pounded in a large wooden bowl called a dornillo. It was poor people's food.