I am generally not a person who likes the sun. I much more prefer to sit in the shade of a tree or umbrella whilst sipping a lemonade. I even prefer drinks that have umbrellas. So you can imagine my surprise yesterday afternoon as I was strolling with the baby out in the hot, bright sun — and found myself loving it. Loving the sun and the heat and the sweat running down my forehead. My sun-kissed skin. It was wonderful. It felt like summer. And as we came back home, thirsty and hungry, I wanted something fresh. Something re-fresh-ing. I wanted tomatoes. Summer garden tomatoes. Plucked from the vine. The kind that run down your chin and hands as you take that first bite. I always sprinkle on a little salt, think of my dad, then take a big, big bite. Yum.
Now, I know what you are thinking. The tomatoes are not here yet. And you are right. In fact, there are some lovely little tomatoes growing happily in my backyard. And almost everyday I walk outside to see how many more blossoms have popped up. I get a little obsessed about this. I find myself thinking, maybe today, maybe a red one. But alas, they are still green. And I think it will be a few more weeks before they are perfect for the picking. But that moment comes closer every day.
I know I am jumping ahead, waiting desperately for August. But, oh the possibilities. Tomato salad, tomato tart, tomato sauce, and I have even seen tomato sorbet. Yet yesterday I knew something had to be made. I knew I could not get the tomato out of my head until I gave in. And on that hot, sticky summer day, there was no other answer than tomato gazpacho. Cold, refreshing, satisfying gazpacho. A little crème fresh, some basil olive oil. Oh me oh my. So what if the tomatoes were not ready. I would have my gazpacho. I threw caution to the wind.
Now, I generally have some reservation when it comes to gazpacho. It is one of those things that needs to be done right. And so often it lets me down. There are not a lot of ingredients in a gazpacho. And because you are not cooking them, these flavors will really stand out. They become the main attraction to the dish.
But yesterday was a reckless, throwing-caution-to-the-wind, using-tomatoes-out-of-season kind of day. And as I was going over these ingredients — pepper, cucumber, tomato — I started to think about the fennel sitting in my fridge. Roasted fennel is delicious. And goes amazingly well with tomatoes.
I used to hate fennel. I thought it tasted like licorice or anise. But fresh fennel is not like this at all. The flavor is not so intense. And if you roast it, it gets a little caramelized and brown and delicious. And if you are anything like me, I would really recommend giving it a second chance before swearing off it completely. I remember eating it for the first time in a fresh fennel, orange salad with some roasted beets. It was so good, it knocked my socks off. Even now, that is one of my favorite salads.
But I am getting distracted. Back to the peppers. Since I was already planning on roasting the fennel for my gazpacho, I thought why not roast the peppers as well. This will give my gazpacho depth and flavor.
So I began. And as long as I was going the semi-cooking route with this gazpacho, why not blanch my tomatoes and remove the skin. If you have never done this before, it is really easy. And what you get is a great tomato that is a little wilted from the water, which just gives it a little extra kick of flavor. So I chopped and blanched and roasted. Then thew it all in a bowl and let it sit overnight. I know. This is hard. Especially for me. But this allows the flavors to develop and strengthen. It is that old adage, you make a soup or a stew for a party, and it always tastes better the next day.
The next afternoon, I whirred it all together and got my spoon ready. I put some crème fresh on mine. And I have to say, even with my pre-season tomatoes, it was outstanding. It was just what I was looking for. The roasted vegetables added so much to this dish. With a little kick of cayenne and some thyme, it all came together beautifully. And when August comes, you can be assured, this will be a weekly staple in my kitchen. Until the kid screams, “No more tomatoes, mom.” But I don’t think that day will come anytime soon.
adapted from The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller
1 cup chopped red onion
2 roasted bell peppers (1 green, 1 red)
1 bulb fennel, sliced and roasted
1 chopped English cucumber
2 cups blanched, peeled, seeded tomatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 cups tomato juice
a few springs of thyme
Slice the fennel into 1 inch thick pieces. Place in roasting pan and toss with olive oil. Roast in 450 degree oven until fennel is browned. Stirring often, remove from oven and place in bowl.
Place peppers on tin foil and place in oven. Roast, turning every so often until each side is black. Really black. Remove from oven and peel skin off and remove seeds. Do not wash. Place in bowl with fennel.
Boil water on stovetop. Cut a small X in the bottom of each tomato. Place tomatoes into boiling water for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, until skin starts to peel back a little. Remove from water. Peel skins, remove seeds and chop roughly. Place in bowl with fennel and peppers.
Add remaining ingredients to fennel mixture. Place in fridge and allow to sit overnight.
The next day, remove thyme sprigs abd place mixture in food processor. Blend till smooth and enjoy!
For more photos and recipe ideas, check out Corey’s blog, Intheorganickitchen.com. Visit weekly to see her latest organic obsession.