Goodness, folks, where did you come from? You are just about the most amazing bunch of people, you know that? I give you boyfriend news, and you send me the internet equivalent of a hug and a squeal; I send an online video your way – and you’re all support and glee! How did I luck out with you as an audience? I must’ve done something right!
I want to take a minute and just say something here (all the while you look at these amazing tomatoes) about the internets, and friendship, and taking chances, and following your gut. I want to take you through a little exercise, on a journey of linking events. Last summer, I had just moved to Brooklyn and as I was settling into my apartment, I was also ordering kitchen goodies to fill out my new, shiny, spacious kitchen (I am still pinching myself that I have a kitchen like this, in a rental, in NY, but I digress). I had accidentally ordered two cherry pitters and was “complaining” on Twitter about my lack of attention to detail and whatever would I do with two pitters? Enter Jennie, who is one of my dearest friends now, who half-jokingly responded, I’d be happy to take one off your hands and refund you the cost. And I wrote to her, look since we’re in the same neighborhood let’s meet up and I’ll give you the pitter. Free of charge. Because, they are, like, $12 and charging you for that would just be silly. Right? Right.
So Jennie and I, two perfect strangers, outside of being Twitter buddies, met up at One Girl Cookies for a coffee and a pitter drop-off. Jennie, and this tells you about the kind of person that she is (and that kind is amAzing!), brought me some tomato jam she had made earlier (which I promptly ate in one sitting with one of those gigantic spoons you see in pictures here) because she liked sharing as much as I did and because Jennie, at heart, is a mom. But mostly because Jennie looks to seeks out individuals such as herself that she can build communities with. Jennie, at her core, is a builder and a nurturer.
Something about that meeting, maybe it was our candor, maybe it was our similar sense of humor (dry, sarcastic) that sort of sealed the bond between us almost instantly. I call her my neighbor-sister-in-crime. I’m not sure what she calls me, but I’m sure it’s something nice. But we’ve become fast friends because we took a chance and we had a good gut feeling. Now, fast forward a few months to late fall and the Bon Appetit bake-off. Jennie had mentioned that her friend Alice, of Savory Sweet Life was coming to town. Jennie had roomed with Alice at another conference, and Jennie, who’s a keen judge of character, thought Alice was kind, sweet, and joyous. After Alice and I exchanged a few emails about hotels in New York and their respective costs, I quickly realized how quickly everything in New York can add up. I knew Alice had three kids, and that money could and should be spent on them, and I offered Alice and her husband my place to stay. I didn’t think much on it, nor did I contemplate the matter that long.
I suppose it’s a little odd to invite people you’ve never met to stay in your home. I suppose it’s also a little odd when someone you’ve never met before offers you their place to stay. You might start doubting that person’s sanity. Home is a very personal thing. It’s your haven, your cocoon, your place of rest and protection. After a bad day, home envelops you, holds you close. Home offers things like soup and stews and blankets and warm cups of tea. And if you’re anything like me, then you’re a bit of a homebody, and like to spend your evenings curled up with a book on the couch, the television softly on in the background. But even though I treasure my home, I also understand that for a lot of people, coming to New York is a huge financial burden. Especially if you have children.
I’ve grown up in a very “open” house so to speak – people came and went, and we always had someone over. By nature, Russian culture is very communal: people’s accomplishments and contributions are measured through their involvement with families and communities. Little premium is placed on being an individual, whereas in the American tradition we are reminded of the “rugged individualism”. In America you are encouraged that you must push your limits, that ceilings exist only to be broken, that your inner voice should be the strongest one.
Growing up with these two cultures, I am an amalgamation of both views, depending on the situation. I am very “Russian”, I suppose when it comes to sharing my space, as I love to have people over, love to host them and don’t feel annoyed when hungry friends show up unannounced. So sharing my home with Alice seemed natural. Something in my gut told me I should take a chance and had I not listened, I wouldn’t have met Alice and become friends with her the way that I have. Had I not arranged to meet Jennie for coffee, who knows if she and I would have grown to be so close? I am grateful for these opportunities, grateful that I have people at my table eating, and grateful for all of you. It’s nice to have you here, at my virtual table, even though I can’t feed you directly, I can pass these recipes on to you.
So how does this sop tie into all this? Well, I made it a few weeks back for a Sunday supper for some folks we had over for dinner: Andrew’s younger brother and an out-of-town friend. There we were, gathered around a table on a Sunday evening, ushering in a new week. And also eating this soup, among other things. And that’s what I love the most, a house full of people, eating and laughing together. I think this is the single reason I cook – to me it’s an expression of love, of family, of community. I started cooking in earnest when I felt uprooted and disconnected from home, and didn’t know where I belonged. A kitchen gave me a home.
Now, about this soup, I can say nothing less than the following: Universe, this is my favorite summer soup hands down! It is summer in bowl in all its tomatoeness. It’s fresh, it’s cold, it has a bite of garlic and a brightness of vinegar. It is the also one of the easiest things to make and somehow manages to look really sophisticated and impressive. It got me thinking that these would be perfect served at party in tiny shot glasses. Easy to consume, delicious, and leave you wanting more. Everyone at the table wanted seconds, which made my heart sing. Needless to say, there was nothing left for the following day.
So this soup, and this is my long-winded way of telling you this, is for all of you. You who come to read for the stories. You who come just to look at the pictures. You who cook from this site and send me feedback. You who’ve stumbled here by accident and decided to stay. My favorite soup of the season – is for you. I hope you like it, and thank you for being here.
Since tomatoes are in season right now, I implore you to give this a go. For those of you trying to go bread-free or who need to be gluten-free, feel free to skip the bread, or use some gluten-free bread instead. Also, I realize that quality vinegar is expensive, but a little will go a long way and it should last you awhile. If you can swing it, definitely spring for something quality – you will notice it in the taste!
1 (3-inch-long) piece baguette, crust cut off
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp quality Sherry vinegar (“reserva” if you have it), or to taste
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp ground cumin (optional)
2 to 2 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered (don’t throw out the part you core, use it to make tomato sauce!)
1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil
Garnish: finely chopped red and green bell peppers (optional)
Soak bread in 1/2 cup water for about a minute, squeeze it dry and set it aside. You won’t need the water anymore, you can just throw it away.
Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and the salt to a paste, until you get smooth, uniform consistency.
In a food processor, blend the garlic paste, the soaked bread, vinegar, sugar, cumin and about 1/2 of the tomatoes, until everything is very finely chopped. Add the rest of the tomatoes. When everything is finely chopped and uniform, slowly add the olive oil in a steady drizzle. Blend the soup as smooth as possible – about 2 minutes.
[Traditionally, you would force the soup through a sieve or a chinois, into a bowl, pressing on solids and then discarding the solids afterward. However, I find that I like my gazpacho more rustic and chunky and so I say, forget the chinois!]
Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered, until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving. If you happen to make it on a weeknight and don’t have the 3 hours chilling time, feel free to eat immediately!