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Gazpacho or Pizza?

Gazpacho

Which summer dish would you prefer? How about both?

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless and hot. It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too much color. Often at night there is lightning, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain. These are strange and breathless days, the dog days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after. ~Natalie Babbitt, Tuck Everlasting

Hello, again! Just as Natalie Babbitt describes, we are still hanging at the very top of summer. The weather, thanks to global warming, has been playing tricks in recent years and the rising humidity levels have brought us closer to what at times feels like tropical conditions. Everybody adapts to this in different ways. Some people like the extended periods of daylight – they can do more and are happy to get up earlier to take advantage of the beautiful morning when the heat is still bearable. Others feel lazier and really struggle with the hotter temperatures – they feel more comfortable staying indoors with the air conditioning on. I don’t think there is a perfect recipe that will suit everyone. What I believe is that each of us should learn how to listen to our own body’s needs and respond to them in the most appropriate way for us.

Of course, when it is hot most of us don’t really feel like eating a hot meal and that can contribute to the feeling of fatigue and lassitude we sometimes develop during the summer. We often tend to have fruit or settle for just a yoghurt for lunch because we really don’t feel like cooking. Let’s be realistic here: who wants to be near a hot oven or a hot stove in the hot summer time – apart from me, of course!?

Even if I didn’t like it, unfortunately I don’t have a choice, because it’s my job. But when you love what you are doing, as I do, it is always easier to cope with things that are not so perfect. That’s why we have been taught in Italy that necessity is the mother of all invention. I am lucky in that sense. I can get creative using all kinds of available vegetables. Summer is the perfect time for vegetables because when the heat rises and we get hot, all sorts of things can happen.

So if you want to cool down and have something more nutritious than a piece of fruit, let me pass on a couple of my ideas that might relieve you laziness and still leave you feeling light. First up is a recipe I found on the beautiful Spanish island of Mallorca during one of the gourmet trips I go on in my spare time. I am always interested in the way other people cook and like to experiment with the things I learn. I love searching for new dishes, and the best way to do this is to go to some local places and try what there is on offer on the menu. For me that is also part of a good holiday. So my choice this year was this beautiful island off the coast of Spain.

Of course there is a risk that what you find on a menu is very far removed from the traditional food you’re used to eating daily back home. But most of the time, if you keep your mind open, you can come across what I regard as some real gems, just like those I’ve discovered in the world of cooking.

So it was in this context that I came across this cold soup, gazpacho, in a local restaurant tucked away in the Serra de Tramuntana Mountains, 20 km north of Palma City, the capital of Mallorca. I was on my way to the picturesque village of Valldemossa where the Polish composer Frederick Chopin and the French writer George Sand lived around 1838.

I presume you have all heard of gazpacho. If you have been to a Spanish restaurant you’ve no doubt tried it. It is a vegetable-tomato based soup originally from Andalusia. It is served in many forms but the one I found in Mallorca had a twist. Initially, I thought it was my taste buds playing tricks on me. So I asked: ‘Is there any watermelon in this soup?’ The answer was yes. What a great combination, I thought! It was refreshing and new. I started to adapt the concept in the cold soup I serve to my friends in the summer. And, of course, now I am going to pass on my recipe to you. It is easy to make and even easier to taste it for yourself, rather than putting up with me bragging to you about it. Of course, I give it here in the hope it will make your summer even more memorable.

Now, in case this cold soup is too exotic for you here is something else that is an integral part of my background. Another quick dish for the summer time is a pizza with vegetables. The trick here is that you don’t have to make the dough or even wait for it to rise; instead you buy already rolled out puff pastry sheets, put one on a flat baking tray, prick it all over with a fork and bake it in the oven until completely brown and crispy all over. Then let it cool.

In the meantime, in a frying pan, sauté half a sliced onion with some extra virgin olive oil, sliced red and yellow peppers, and sliced courgettes (zucchini). Cook until soft and juicy and season with fresh parsley, salt and pepper. Five minutes before the vegetables are cooked, add a few cherry tomatoes for extra juice and Mediterranean flavour. Let this mixture cool and then place on top of the puff pastry. This is a good dish to follow the cold soup, and if you have it with a nice fresh salad then it is a complete meal – I don’t normally use cheese for this, but you can, if you feel naughty!

Try this pizza, compare it to a slice of apple for lunch and then tell me which is tastier.

Now, go out and make your summer memorable!

Gazpacho

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 red tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 cucumbers, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 1 large slice of watermelon, seeded
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, squashed
  • 2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 cups cold vegetable juice
  • a few leaves of fresh basil
  • salt and pepper

METHOD:

In a large glass bowl, combine all the ingredients
and mix together gently. Transfer to a blender or
food processor and blend until smooth. Cover and
refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavours blend.
Serve chilled with a drop of olive oil on top (croutons
optional). Serves 6.
food processor and blend until smooth. Cover and
refrigerate for at least 4 hours to let the flavours blend.
Serve chilled with a drop of olive oil on top (croutons
optional). Serves 6.

This post is also available in: Italian Spanish

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