Freshly made bread has been a staple in the Portuguese household since wheat was introduced by the Romans more than two thousand years ago. Interestingly, most homes were built with outdoor clay ovens, with designated bread baking days for the family. I’m deducing it was (and may still be) a communal affair since they’d bake the bread in bulk, wrap it well and store it for the coming week. And as you know, I love the make-ahead concept!
Not surprisingly, freshly baked bread in the form of rolls, round loaves, baguettes (both white and multi-grain) is now available every day except for Sunday. We were lucky enough to have a daily delivery of fresh breads and pastries to a well-worn trailer parked on cinder blocks in our very own town square. We nicknamed it “the bread truck” and every morning (except Sunday), my parents woke up extra early and fetched an endless supply of carby treats, which we’d top with a freshly sliced tomato or a smear of butter and morango (strawberry) jam.
So it’s not surprising that with repeated visits to the bread truck, we amassed quite a stash of leftovers. Several bagfuls went to our wonderful housekeeper’s chickens, but we were still left with more. Since we couldn’t let it go to waste, we found some savory uses for it.
We’d slice and toast some with a rich olive oil for homemade toasties, which we would later top with fresh avocado, figs and cheese. Others we cubed then tossed with olive oil, sea salt and grated cheese for baked croutons to throw on top of our salads and creamy vegetable soups for added crunch. But as the days went on, I was on the lookout for more creative uses for our day old bread.
One afternoon, after touring the ancient Moorish city of Silves, we stopped for a light lunch at the lovely Cafe Ingles, a tree-shaded cafe just beneath the medieval castle walls. A creamy chilled gazpacho, along with a few pieces of garlic bread really hit the spot. As we meandered home, through narrow, windy roads carved along the rolling hillside, I kept thinking about my soup. Having made various types of gazpacho and enjoying it countless times, I hadn’t remembered a bowl so rich and full of flavor. Visions of my Vitamix popped into my head, since I figured they must have used a powerful blender. But what else could have made it so creamy?
It seems the answer, my cooking friends, is bread– a secret ingredient in Portuguese (and many kinds of Andalusian) chilled tomato soups. Maybe someone long ago was looking to put stale bread to good use just as I had been. Whatever their intention, I just discovered a new dimension to a soup I already love.
The very next day, I concocted my very own Gazpacho Soup, using garden fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, garlic and day old bread, ingredients we already had at the villa. Chopping the vegetables was a breeze but without an electric grinder, I wasn’t sure how to get the bread crumbled fine enough. Thanks to a good old-fashioned hand held grater, I used the fine side to shave the bread. And although I didn’t have my Vitamix, an immersion blender worked just fine.
Now that tomatoes are just beginning to peak in New Jersey and the other key ingredients for a full bodied gazpacho are readily available, I am pleased to share my recipe with you. With such sweltering weather and bounties of fresh produce, there’s no better time than now to get blending this refreshing soup. So hold onto your old bread just the way our ancestors did and sneak it into some soup!
Farm Fresh Gazpacho
Feel free to get creative with your gazpacho and add other vegetables like peppers, jalapeno for a kick or fresh herbs. And then when you serve it, how about some chilled shrimp or lobster?
6 large tomatoes chopped, skin and seeds removed
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 onion, diced
1 cup cucumber, diced and seeded
2 cups cold water
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons good red wine vinegar
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
Fresh pepper (optional)
1 cup freshly grated bread crumbs
Place all ingredients in a high powered blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a container and chill (preferably overnight). Serve with finely diced vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, scallions, and homemade croutons.
2 cups cubed bread (from day old bread)
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
½ teaspoon Kosher Salt
1 tablespoon Grated Parmesan Cheese
Pre-heat the oven to 400. Toss all ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Lay the bread on parchment paper lined baking sheet and bake until golden, flipping once. Keep a close watch since the croutons can easily burn.