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Gustavore Patch: Flavors of Spain

Tapas and gazpacho are perfect summer flavors from Spain.

When I think of summer, I think of gazpacho and tapas. Particularly tapas with white anchovies.

Before you can utter, “I don’t like anchovies,” let me say that the anchovies of which I speak are not the same as the oil or salt cured anchovies commonly available.

White anchovies are a completely different thing: they are fresh fillets in vinegar brine. In Decatur, we are extremely fortunate to have ready access to this delicacy at a very reasonable price at our very own Sawicki’s Meat, Seafood & More.

Generally, tapas with white anchovies are rather simple compositions and they all start with a thin slice of grilled or toasted bread. This is a great use of the day old remnants of your French baguette. Grill or toast dry, then drizzle on a little olive oil before topping with one or two anchovy fillets and one of the following:

  • A teaspoon or so of a mixture of minced red and green pepper, onion, garlic, chili pepper, parsley and olive oil (see pictures)
  • Tapenade (process pitted black or green olives with garlic, capers, lemon juice, fresh chili pepper and a little olive oil) and minced red onions marinated in lemon juice (see pictures)
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Finely chopped hardboiled egg

Plan on about 6 tapas (2 to 3 oz. of anchovies) per person. For more tapas inspiration, anchovy or otherwise, you might be interested in Fiona Dunlop’s “New Tapas” cookbook, which takes you on a culinary journey through every region in Spain.

Gazpacho is another defining summer flavor of Spain. I refer to the version developed after 1492 based on tomatoes and bell peppers.

At its best, gazpacho is a long, cool drink of the summer garden with distinct vegetable flavors and toothsome texture suspended in a juicy tomato base. To get there, I’ve tried a lot of recipes and have learned six things in my many attempts before achieving gazpacho perfection:

  1. Don’t try to speed things up with a food processor. The texture will be, in a perceptive description from Cook’s Illustrated, “a thin vegetable porridge with an anonymous vegetal flavor.”
  2. This is one of the very few recipes I have ever made that did not benefit from doubling the garlic. In fact, that pretty much ruined it.
  3. Don’t buy that generic Kroger brand tomato juice. That will also ruin it.
  4. A 2-quart pitcher or measuring receptacle will make a perfect mixing, storing and pouring container for the soup.
  5. The flavor depends entirely on the freshness and quality of the vegetables. It will be worth waiting until the tomatoes are perfect.
  6. This will taste especially excellent on a very hot day.
  7. OK, there are 7 things, but this one isn’t mandatory: if possible, serve in a bell-shaped seeded glass bowl in a sunlit room (preferably with the sun shining in at a low-ish angle) to best show off the stunning color. (See pictures.)

This recipe makes enough for 4-5 and can be doubled.

  • Cut into ¼” cubes and place in the mixing container: ¾ lb. tomatoes (cored), 1 red bell pepper (cored and seeded), 2 Persian seedless cucumbers (or 1 regular cucumber, peeled and seeded) and ¼ Vidalia onion. Add 2 tablespoons of sherry vinegar, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Let sit 5 minutes.
  • Add 2-½ cups tomato juice and ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce. On occasion I have not had tomato juice on hand and successfully substituted with about 2 cups of tomato puree thinned with ½ cup water.
  • Refrigerate 3-4 hours. You may wish to add ¼ cup of water if consistency is too thick. I find this actually seems to further brighten the flavor. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

I tend to skip the garnishes because I don’t think they add that much to the experience since, traditionally, they are the same vegetables that are already in the soup. But, if you like the idea of a fancier presentation, offer chopped tomatoes, cucumber, black olives, hard cooked eggs and/or avocado in small bowls on the side.

Besides being a simple, no-cook, make-ahead, refreshing summer lunch, gazpacho is packed with nutrition. My non-scientific calculations reveal it is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, a good source of Vitamin E (Alpha Tocopherol), Thiamin, Niacin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Iron and Magnesium, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium, Manganese and Copper.

Have some tapas with white anchovies and you’ll add 14 grams of protein and some Omega 3 Fatty Acids to your meal. Something still missing? Oh, yeah: a glass of Torrontés white wine from Argentina or a white Rioja from Spain will pair nicely. If you're looking for an entreé to add to the menu, I'd suggest Paella. (More on that next week.) In the meantime, put on some Gipsy Kings and dream of Spain.

Nicki Salcedo June 11, 2011 at 08:46 PM
One day, some nice Decatur restaurant is going to hire you. Until then, I appreciate knowing that you will keep us informed on matters of anchovies (white or otherwise), I never thought I would like gazpacho, but your description of it being a cool drink on a summer day about sums it up.
Nonie Ravenberg June 12, 2011 at 06:22 AM
Now that I've almost accomplished my life goal of seeing all the Caravaggio painting on public display, I think I'm going to work on converting those who think they don't like good stuff into believers.
Nonie Ravenberg June 12, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Nicki, I know you (and everyone else) are thinking that I could have used better sentence structure on my reply. But, I'm in a foreign country and English is taking a back seat as my first language. I don't have any other excuse than that.

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