A specialty of Spain and Portugal, gazpacho is a cold raw vegetable peasant soup originating in Andalusia, the southernmost region of Spain. Originally made from old bread, olive oil and garlic, the recipe was in use when the Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula (218-19 B.C.E.).
The name is of Arabic origin, and literally means “soaked bread”; the original recipe came from the Arabs who occupied much of Spain from the 8th through the 13th centuries.
Although gazpacho is traditionally a textured soup—made in the days before food processors—today the term has become generic for any cold vegetable soup. But early on, it was a way for field workers to make lunch from the vegetables at hand, and stale bread was added to the recipes.
Today, an Andalusian recipe typically includes stale bread, bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, onion, tomato, wine vinegar and salt. This “red gazpacho” is a relatively recent addition: The tomato, a new world fruit originally the size of the cherry tomato, was brought back to Europe from the New World by the Spanish conquistadors as a houseplant. It was not eaten until the 1800s*; the first documented tomato sauce recipe in Italy is from 1839.
There are many variations of gazpacho, depending on local preferences. American recipes tend to leave out the bread, although some may garnish the soup with garlic croutons. White gazpacho is made with olive oil, sherry vinegar, bread, garlic and salt, and substitutes green grapes and almonds for the vegetables. We’ve included a white gazpacho recipe, ajoblanco, below.
Gazpacho is a warm weather dish. In Spain it can be found in any bar or restaurant from May to September.
*A member of the Nightshade family of plants, the tomato was deemed poisonous until it was eaten out of desperation during a famine in the early 1800s in Italy. The original tomato was the cherry tomato, which made an attractive house plant. History of the tomato.
Tomato-based gazpacho. Photo courtesy AddSomeLife.com.
According to Foods From Spain, Empress Eugenia (Eugenie) de Montijo was the first to popularize gazpacho outside of Spain. She insisted on serving it at her wedding banquet when she married Napoleon III in 1853.
While we don’t know which recipe she requested, it was no doubt one of the many evolutions of the original gazpacho recipe.
Flash forward to medieval times: Moor invaders (711 C.E.) added almonds to the recipe, giving birth to ajoblanco, the forerunner of modern gazpacho. Before tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers were brought back from the New World, gazpacho was white. (Ajoblanco means white garlic.)
Spaniards then made that recipe their own by adding grapes, both blended into the soup and as a garnish.
Over the centuries, gazpacho has evolved in many directions. The blender and food processor have enabled versions with creamy textures. The common ingredients remain olive oil, garlic and salt.
You can find gazpacho in shades of green, red, white and yellow. You can find it made thickly, with the texture of a dip rather than a soup. The classic gazpacho of Seville is made with tomato, cucumber, garlic, onion, green pepper, bread, salt, a dash of sherry vinegar and olive oil, and is usually seasoned with cumin.