Last sip of summer

It has been a fast and frenetic summer, the sort where if you blink you'll miss it. I can hardly believe that August is winding to a close. And I must say that I am particularly and inexplicably sad about Summer ending this year. Sure there are fine times ahead - the crackle of dry, brown leaves under my bike wheels; the pleasantly crisp mornings; russeted apples to eat with hunks of cheddar; dense, sweet orange squash; dusky purple grapes; the mists that will return to loll about the hillocks just so.  But still. I just haven't gotten my fill of Summer yet. I haven't jumped in enough lakes, or eaten enough drippy, sweet nectarines, or felt the sticky heat from a tent hit by the fiery blaze of a rising sun, and I definitely haven't climbed enough mountains.

So, I think I am dealing with this by escaping to a warmer place, to the sights and smells of Spain. I am dreaming of the steps I took in March and April of 2009, one thousand kilometres worth, on my way from Sevilla in the South to Santiago de Compostela in the Northwest, walking the Via de la Plata. I am remembering the fiery province of Andalusia with its white-washed villages; the wails and insistent clatters and claps of a flamenco dancer; jostling night crowds spilled out onto the warm, cobblestoned streets; oh the jamon, dangling, sweet and musky, leg after leg, from ceilings, everywhere from the supermarket to the local bar. The sparsely populated province of Extremadura with its parched earth; grey olive trees and gnarled grape vines; the red rust paprika of an insanely fresh, moist chorizo; countryside of Holm oak and stone walls and fat-bellied Ibérico pigs. 

I suppose all this surfaces for another reason too, as my boss is off to Spain to walk her own Camino, the Camino Frances. I am here, Spain is there, what to do? I dig out my cookbooks and take the last gifts of Summer - the twisted, thin-skinned peppers; sweet, sun-ripened tomatoes; fresh, pungent garlic. I find some stale bread and reach for my jar of sherry vinegar and use plenty of olive oil. I open a bottle of wine at lunchtime. I bring Spain to me.

Cold Tomato and Roasted Pepper Soup (Salmorejo)
From Mediterranean Harvest

Even though it was only March when I began my trek the days were intensely hot, easily climbing into the 30s. The land was dry, with nary a drop of rain, and villages were few and far between. It was a struggle to find and carry enough water. The best end to a sweltering day was definitely a bowl (or shot glass) of gazpacho - bright and cool and ever so refreshing. Every version I tried was different, from the consistency to the garnishes. This was one of my favourites though. 

You use more bread than most gazpachos but that gives it a thicker and, I think, more luscious texture. There is a sweet tang from the sherry vinegar, the bright pop of fresh garlic, and a hit of charred spice from the roasted pepper. In Spain this would be garnished with finely chopped hard-boiled egg and the absolutely amazing jamón ibérico de bellota . Nothing compares here, so I just leave it out.

2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped (uhhh, I may have only done the chopping here)
1 large green bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, and chopped
5 ounces stale French bread, broken into small pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 to 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup cold water
2 or 3 large eggs, hard-boiled
2 tbsp chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, chives, tarragon, or basil, alone or in combination

In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, bell pepper, bread, garlic, vinegar and olive oil. Salt and pepper generously, toss together, cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours. Add the water and about 1/2 tsp salt.

In batches, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree. If you wish, thin out with more cold water, but keep in mind this soup is meant to be thick. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Cut the eggs into a tiny dice. Toss with the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Ladle the soup into bowls, sprinkle each serving with the chopped eggs and herbs, and serve.

Serves 4 to 6

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