By Celia Barbour
Sometimes I cook food for people. And sometimes I cook food for food — by which I mean that what I cook and when I cook it are determined not by hunger or desire or even my everlasting wish to make my children happy, but by the imminence of a particular ingredient’s expiration (or wilt) date. In other words, sometimes I feel compelled to cook something up even though I don’t particularly want to.
In winter, this happens seldom enough I hardly notice it. This is mostly because winter vegetables — roots, brassicas and the like — survive for a very long time once they’ve been harvested. You can put a few beets and a head of cabbage in your refrigerator, and three weeks later, you’ll find that same cabbage and beets just hanging out there, chilling, not even wondering what you’re going to do with them let alone when, they are so totally fine with whatever.
But try ignoring your strawberries or cucumbers or tender baby spinach, and you will hear about it. Not from the ignored fruits and vegs themselves (unless you live in one of those talking-objects worlds typically inhabited by Disney characters or schizophrenics), but from your conscience, which, in its tone of gentle disapprobation, will remind you that you might ought not to have bought three pounds of baby spinach the last time you were at the market, knowing, as you did (if you’d just bothered to stop and think about it) that you were not going to be eating dinner at home for the next few nights, and that you already had two cucumbers and five bunches of kale in the fridge waiting to be used up. And knowing, too, that at 5:30 every day — the exact time when you should be preparing said spinach and cucumbers in anticipation of supper — the kitchen suddenly becomes the last place on earth you want to be. Because at that very same moment, the air outdoors shifts to cool, the yard is charged with golden light, and the kids abandon their homework and head outside barefoot to toss a Frisbee beneath the welcoming trees.
All of which is to say early summer can be a very high-stress time for a cook — in much the same way that a Tom Cruise character’s life gets high-stress when he has to defuse a bomb in a high-rise and at the same time save a girl who is about to be cut in two. Because: How do you prioritize? What do you choose when suppertime coincides with Frisbee time, and the spinach is going bad just as your children are growing older?
Into this crisis sweeps green gazpacho — El Libertador, as I now like to think of it. Or anyway, that’s how it was for me last week. I was looking for a delicious way to use up just one or two of my ticking-time-bomb vegetables and came across a recipe in Plenty, the genius cookbook by the amazing Yotam Ottolenghi, that uses five plus herbs and stale bread.
I’ve had many alternative gazpachos in the past few years, including several made with almonds and grapes. Still, when I noticed that this recipe called for neither tomatoes nor onions, I wondered what makes a gazpacho a gazpacho. So I looked it up in Larousse Gastronomique, and it turns out that gazpacho is: “A Spanish soup … made with bread and vegetables.” In fact, the very name gazpacho comes from Arabic for “soaked bread.”
This one may look daunting because it calls for a long list of ingredients, but it is actually easy as pie to make because you just rough-chop the big stuff, put it all in a blender, and whirr it smooth. And it’s wildly, addictively delicious. Best of all, since you eat it ice-cold, it is perfectly content to hang out in the refrigerator like some easygoing cabbage while you run outside to join the kids and throw their Frisbee straight into the rose bushes.
Adapted from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi (Chronicle Books, 2011)
3 slices stale white bread
1 ½ cups walnuts
2 celery stalks (including leaves)
2 yellow bell peppers, seeded
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded
2 cucumbers (or 1½ English cucumbers), peeled and seeded
2 heads green garlic or 4 cloves garlic, peeled
6 cups baby spinach (or substitute up to two cups torn kale)
1 cup basil leaves
1/3 cup parsley leaves
4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
- Heat an oven or toaster oven to 350˚. If the bread is not dried out, lay it on the rack to toast. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet, and toast, tossing occasionally, until fragrant about 8 minutes.
- Roughly chop the bread, celery, peppers, cucumbers, and garlic. Place in a blender with the remaining ingredients plus about a cup of cold water and blend until smooth, adding more water as needed. Taste and adjust the salt and vinegar. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. If you like, blend the gazpacho with a few ice cubes just before serving.