GazpachoThis chilled soup is ideal for a summer meal, and a sure way to impress any guest.  This is the gazpacho that blew my mind in Madrid when we first visited a few years ago — with a smooth, creamy, velvety consistency, but without any animal-based products at all.  The recipe comes from Cook’s Illustrated.  While the folks at America’s Test Kitchen often seem to needlessly complicate some standard recipes, this one is well worth the small additional effort to prepare the vegetables.

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cored
1 medium-size cucumber, peeled, halved, and seeded
1 medium green bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 small red onion, peeled and halved
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
1 small serrano chile, stemmed and halved lengthwise
Sea salt
1 slice high-quality white bread (the size of a sandwich slice), crust removed, torn into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar or (ideally) sherry vinegar
2 Tbsp finely minced parsley, chives, or basil
Ground black pepper

Roughly chop 2 pounds of tomatoes, half of the cucumber, half the bell pepper, and half the onion.  Toss in a large bowl with the garlic, chile pepper, and 1½ teaspoons salt.  Set aside.

Cut remaining tomatoes, cucumber, and pepper into ¼-inch dice.  Place into a medium bowl.  Mince the remaining onion and add to diced vegetables.  Toss with ½ teaspoon salt and transfer to a fine-mesh strainer set over a medium bowl.  Set aside for 1 hour.  (This step causes the vegetables to release liquid, which you will use in the next step._

Transfer the drained diced vegetables to a medium bowl and set aside.  Add the bread to the exuded liquid (about ¼ cup), and soak for 1 minute.  Add the soaked bread and any remaining liquid to the roughly chopped vegetables and toss thoroughly to combine.

Transfer half the vegetable-bread mixture to a blender and purée for 30 seconds.  With blender running, slowly drizzle in ¼ cup of olive oil and continue blending until completely smooth, about 2 minutes.  Strain the soup through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, using the back of a ladle or a rubber spatula to press the soup through the strainer.  Repeat with the remaining vegetable-bread mixture and ¼ cup of olive oil.

Stir vinegar, minced herbs, and half of diced vegetables into the soup and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 2 hours to chill completely and develop flavors.  Use remaining diced vegetables as garnish if desired.

Serves 4-6. Prep time: 90 minutes; refrigerate overnight for ideal flavor.

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