Monday, 6 August 2012

Andalucía - Gazpacho

I have the great fortune to live in Andalucía. It is far more than the beaches of the Costa del Sol (though they are good) and worth a visit.
The flag of Andalucía


Largest by the number of inhabitants and second largest by area of the autonmous regions of Spain, Andalucía stretches from the Portuguese border almost across the width of the south of Spain. It has a varied landscape from the mountain ranges dotted with los pueblos blancos (white villages), the arid lands of Almería which have been used to film spaghetti westerns and a modern Dr. Who, to the popular costas lapped by the Mediterranean Sea. 

Sculpture outside
Málaga bullring
Bullrings are found throughout the region. Unlike Barcelona which has recently stopped this sport, the bullrings, large and small, are still home to these fights. If the sight of a live bullfight is not for you, visit the bullrings outside of fight times. Many of them can be entered without fees, though any attached museums may charge a fee.

Andalucía is a place for romantics, home to Flamenco and Carmen, the sultry summer heat can stir the passions. The coastline, whilst still hot, benefits from the winds off the sea. The Costa del Sol was also known as the Costa del Viento, Coast of the Wind - ideal for watersports such as windsurfing and sailing. The coastline is peppered with towns of repute - Huelva, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Marbella, Málaga and Almería. They offer a variety of cultural and historic insights along with the inland sites.

Andalucía's history is long. It's position between Africa and Europe, where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Mediterranean Sea, has made it a settling point and strategic prize for many civilizations since prehistoric times. The caves at Nerja are home to some of humanity's earliest paintings. The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Visigoths all made areas of Andalucía their home before the arrival of the Moors.
Detail from Generalife, Granada

Andalucía boasts some of the most exquisite architecture influenced by the Islamic empire - Al Andalus - who ruled swathes of Spain from the conquest of Hispania in 711 to the final Christian reconquest of Granada in 1492. Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla are just three cities that boast incredible examples of this architectural style in their mosques and castle forts. Antequera, the heart of Andalucía, shows how the Islamic influence continues in the decoration of the Andalucían courtyards that open out from many of the town's front entrances. 
Entrance to an Andalusian courtyard, Antequera

With its rich cultural heritage Andalucía has seen its food influenced by its rulers. Some of the spices from north Africa, particularly saffron and paprika, permeate the dishes but generally the food is barely spiced but fresh and seasonal. Freshly caught fish will be cooked over fires in sand-filled boats at the many chiringuitos that line the beaches. Two crops of avocados and salad vegetables a year allow for healthy fresh salads for a good part of the year. During the summer, when the thought of hot food during the heat of the day does not spring readily to mind, a cold soup is the perfect lunchtime meal.
Gazpacho
Photo credit: [http://www.flickr.com/photos/avlxyz/73147794/ Alpha] {{cc-by-sa-2.0}}

Gazpacho is one, possibly the most well-known, of Spain's cold soups. Made with tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers it is light but filling and refreshing. As with all things the recipes vary from place to place. On a personal note I prefer the recipe with a good helping of cucumber as it lifts the soup from being merely a tomato offering. Gazpacho is a soup that should be added to every cook's summer repertoire.


Recipe

Serves 4
100g slightly stale crusty white bread, soaked in cold water for 20 mins
1kg very ripe tomatoes, diced
1 ripe red pepper and 1 green pepper, deseeded and diced
1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
150ml extra virgin olive oil
2tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt, to taste
Garnishes – diced cucumber, diced red pepper, finely chopped spring onion

1. Mix the diced tomatoes, peppers and cucumber with the crushed garlic and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Squeeze out the bread, tear it roughly into chunks, and add to the mixture.

2. Blend until smooth, then add the salt and vinegar to taste and stir well.

3. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve, then cover and refrigerate until well chilled.

4. Serve with garnishes of your choice

Hints and Tips

Ripeness is key. Gazpacho is a refreshing, cold soup and to attain that freshness the ingredients must be VERY ripe. A crunchy pepper or hard, pale tomato will not make a good gazpacho.

Garnish. I like the garnishes to reflect the soup’s ingredients but you can add anything you choose. Olives, croutons, parsley or mint are nice alternatives.



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