Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Don't call my name, gazpacho

Jeff gets a farm box (actually it's more like a farm bag) every few weeks and the great thing about it is that it's an opt-in system instead of an opt-out system.  I like fresh produce as much as the next San Francisco resident (i.e., I would vote YES on a ballot initiative allowing me to marry it), but I also like to have some choice, and I can't always work my way through an entire head of cabbage in seven days' time.  So it's nice to be able to look into a fridge full of condiments and tortillas on a Tuesday afternoon and say--this is the week, let's do it, let's get some fruits.

And I do get inspiration when something unexpected, but lovely shows up.  Had I been at my friendly neighborhood produce market last week, the fog in the air probably would have convinced me to buy potatoes and kale, rather than the fruits of late summer.  But the farm bag came full of last-of-the-season heirloom tomatoes and red peppers, and it's hard not to get excited about peppers from Mariquita Farms.  They're really a revelation, a serious crunch giving way to the thinnest skin and the most concentrated bright burst of pepper flavor I can imagine.  They made me realize that Chairman Kaga probably accomplished the legendary pepper-chomping opening scene of Iron Chef without any trick photography or sound editing.

I had picked up a nice, hollow-sounding watermelon earlier in the week, and I've been kicking the idea of a watermelon/pepper gazpacho in my head for a while, so I decided that now was the time to make it happen.  It worked out a differently than I had envisioned (entasted?) but possibly better, with those tangy peppers dominating the flavor, but tamed by the sweet background of watermelon, enriched with a helping of diced watermelon that I added to the finished soup.  I've made gazpacho before, and though this one called previous versions to mind, it was decidedly a fruit soup.  It worked.  See you next year, watermelon gazpacho.

Some of the tomatoes later found themselves roasted in a panzanella accompanying a steak salad, a dinner so simple that it barely needs a recipe.  In a 400-degree oven, roast some tomatoes with garlic and salt, and toast some bread cubes until crunchy.  Mix those together.  Sear a half-pound strip steak on each side.  Let it rest while you toss some arugula into a bowl and shave some romano cheese.  Slice the strip steak thin and place it on the arugula, dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, top with cheese and shave over some horseradish.  Jeff and I washed it down with a cabernet franc, and then we biked to the San Francisco Symphony, and then we met Chloe Sevigny.  A good night!  And we have a farm bag to thank for it.


Watermelon gazpacho
serves 4-6

2 lbs watermelon, plus more for garnish
3/4 lb red pepper, cut up
2-3 medium red tomatoes, cored and cut up
a small yellow onion, sliced
a hot pepper, seeded and sliced
1/4 cup (or more) olive oil
kosher salt
sherry vinegar
black pepper
a few cherry tomatoes, for garnish

Peel and cut up 2 lbs of watermelon, and add it to a bowl with the red pepper, red tomatoes, onion, and hot pepper (if you'd like your gazpacho a little spicy, add in just a few seeds from the hot pepper).  Add water just until the fruits and vegetables are mostly submerged (1-2 cups), then add a few big pinches of kosher salt and stir.  Allow the mixture to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours.

After the fruits and vegetables have marinated, transfer them to a food processor and blend for a few minutes until the mixture is as smooth as possible.  Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to do this in two batches.  Pass the soup through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing on the solids to extract as much juice as possible.  Anything that's left behind should be pretty much flavorless.  You can also use a food mill to accomplish all of these steps simultaneously.

Once the soup has been strained, blend in 1/4 cup olive oil.  Taste it, and season with sherry vinegar, and salt as necessary.  If the soup needs more body, blend in additional olive oil.  Chill the soup to allow the flavors to mellow and combine, at least 3 hours, or up to a few days.

When ready to serve, halve some cherry tomatoes and dice a small piece of watermelon into very small cubes.  Remove the soup from the fridge and blend it again to combine the oil and juices.  Add a few cherry tomatoes and some diced watermelon to each serving bowl.  Pour soup over the fruits, then garnish with additional watermelon and tomatoes, olive oil, and black pepper.

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