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Friday, July 30, 2010

New world fruit, old world charm

Let's say you were given some tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and stale bread, and you had to make a dish out of that. No, you had to make soup out of that.

Those same humble ingredients are the bases for two very different classic European soups. I'll digress a bit to say how impressive the influence of the New World plants were to changes in Old World cuisine. Bearing in mind that the tomato and the chile pepper were relatively late additions to the European pantry, they quickly became essential, and even iconic of the identity. Few can even imagine Italian cooking without tomatoes.

Speaking of Italians, the soup pappa al pomodoro is a delectable way to use up old bread. You heat up some olive oil, and cook down the garlic and tomatoes, season with salt, and throw in the torn up pieces of bread, and some basil. Rustic, hearty, I think it works in any season.

The Spanish, on the other hand, took it a different route to make gazpacho. I don't know where this new interpretation of gazpacho as chunky V8 juice came from, but the classic stuff starts with pureed garlic and bread. Tomatoes are then added, and finally olive oil is drizzled in to make this bread thickened flavorful emulsion. I think that is why is is a cold soup - an emulsion would break when it is heated. A splash of sherry vinegar, and summer heat is controlled.

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