I know I’m not saying anything remotely original with the following statement, but I love Paris. The scenery, the art, the people, the clothes, the Place des Vosges, the patisserie, the canal. What’s not to love? I’m even a bit of a fan of the Metro and I’m not keen on being underground (I loathe the Tube). Forgive me when I say though, that food in general in Paris has never really stood out for me (anyone guffawing at this statement who might be picturing a Pierre Herme macaron, please refer to the above regarding loving patisserie).
Said fact only occurred to me quite recently. And it’s not that I haven’t eaten some memorable meals in Paris – I’ve eaten chicken and chips at Chartier, onion soup in a restaurant that appeared to want to resemble a bordello in the Marais, falafel at L’As du Fallafel, and picnicked by the Seine – but it’s always been a bit more about the experience than the food itself.
I went to Paris last week in the middle of the heatwave that we Brits were all dying for after the crappy weather of what felt like forever. Paris gets ever so hot when it gets hot (another reason to love it) – the air feels like it’s sitting still and when you’re in the shade you’re as warm there was you would be in the full shade. We were supposed to be there to see art but someone forgot that museums in France tend to shut on Tuesdays so we mostly sat around luxuriating in the heat and eating and drinking.
And this time, I couldn’t tell you exactly where we went, or what we drank (apart from that ridiculously alcoholic caiphinha at the café at the Palais de Tokyo), but what did stand out was the fact that Gaspacho, and really, really good, tasty and cheap Gaspacho was available on EVERY MENU I SAW (about 10 menus over 2 days – I know, it seems excessive, but when you arrive at an area, or a museum, or a shop, and it’s hot, it seems like a good idea to sit and rest and drink and eat right?).
And that’s because blended tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers is a combo that’s 16 times more refreshing than an ice cream, or a glass of iced water, or anything else cold that one might think of. We were served it in shot glasses accompanying quiche and salad, in bowls as a side dish to a burger, as a starter, as a main. Even my Spanish friend was quite impressed by the quality, which is super-high praise coming from her.
So while I know it’s not French, it’s not original and it’s not particularly glamorous, Paris finally provided me with a food stand out, so I came home and have been mainlining my version of the stuff ever since.
Now the reason that this is called Summer Tomato Soup rather than Gaspacho, is that Gaspacho is supposed to be made with bread, and it’s supposed to be very smooth. And while I do love it like that, I also like it with a bit of a crunch so here’s my Gaspacho alternative, which uses a hand blender (very handy in teeny tiny kitchen like mine).
8 large (or around 1.2kg), fresh, fragrant tomatoes (as a general rule, the pricier the better, don’t go buying ‘value’ or ‘salad’ tomatoes as they have no flavor. Equally, don’t spend loads of money buying zillions of cherry tomatoes as sometimes their sweetness makes you wince slightly when you’re eating the soup).
240g sweet peppers
3 large-ish cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper
Heat the oven to 200 degrees and rub the peppers with a little oil so that they’re covered with a thin layer, and place on a roasting pan. Roast peppers for about 15 mins or until they’re going a bit black and the skin is puncturing. Leave to cool.
In the meantime, chop the tomatoes and remove the seeds (you can remove the skins if you want to – place tomatoes in a pan of boiling water until the skins puncture and can be easily removed – but I don’t think it makes too much difference). Peel and chop the cucumbers and the garlic cloves, and dump all the veg in a large bowl.
Remove the skins and seeds from the peppers, then chop and chuck in the bowl with the rest of the veg. Drizzle with a decent glug of olive oil.
Put the blending end of the blender (I was told to make this recipe as simple as possible) into the veg before you press the on button, or your outfit may take on a new hue.
Blend the whole lot together until you have a lumpy red mixture. Check it for flavour, and add salt and pepper to your taste, then blend a little more, or until it reaches a texture you like.
Serve in shot glass, a bowl, a mug, a drinking glass etc with a little drizzle of olive oil or maybe a little lump of crème fraiche. I’ve also been known to sprinkle a bit of hard boiled egg, the odd black olive or a sprig of mint or basil on top.