Grapes Add 'Aah' to This Gazpacho

Article excerpt

The word "gazpacho" is used colloquially by some in the south of Spain to mean roughly the same as hotchpotch, mishmash, or concoction.

Those are all pretty good descriptions of the dish gazpacho, the famed cold soup from Andalusia. There is no single recipe for gazpacho, but the classic ingredients include bread, tomatoes, garlic, green peppers, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and often onion and cucumber.

Almost anything goes. With endless variations, choices are personal, and more often than not reflect what is found in the refrigerator. "If you have more or less of the ingredients, and you grind them up," my mother-in-law in Barcelona told me, "you can call it gazpacho."

In one Andalusian village, people may make it with cucumber, in another with lemon and no vinegar. Another may use fresh mint, while the next uses mint as well as hard-boiled egg, vinegar, and rabbit liver.

Perhaps the only two obligatory ingredients are oil and bread. But even bread can be omitted if you want to make more of a drinking gazpacho. My wife, Eva, and I sometimes make a big breadless batch in the summer and leave it in the refrigerator in pitchers to drink from glasses like a hearty juice.

According to "Larousse Gastronomique," the authoritative culinary encyclopedia, the word gazpacho comes from the Arabic meaning "soaked bread." Not everyone, though, agrees with such straightforward etymology. Food scholar Clifford Wright, in his referential tome on the histories of Mediterranean cuisines, "A Mediterranean Feast," says that etymologists believe it comes from the word "carpa," meaning "residue" or "fragments" and borrowed from the Mozarabs (Christians who lived under Muslim rule in Spain). It may even be a pre-Roman Iberian word modified by Arabic.

The history of the word can be debated, but the roots of the dish are clearly Arabic.

Arabs invaded Spain in 711, and within 10 years controlled most of the peninsula. Muslim Spain was called al-Andalus, an entity that shrank southward over 800 years as the Moors (as the Muslim invaders were called) gradually lost more and more territory. The last Moorish city, Granada, was finally taken, and the long Christian Reconquista complete, in January of that auspicious year 1492.

Al-Andalus was the most sophisticated place in medieval Europe, rival to Constantinople and Baghdad, a meeting point between the Orient and Occident, where important advances in mathematics, medicine, and agriculture took place, and great works of art and philosophy were created.

The lasting influence on the culture of Spain, especially in Andalusia, where the Moors ruled longest, runs deep in the architecture, art, poetry, music, dance, language, design, and of course, food.

The Arabs instituted the combining of sweet and savory (say, meat dishes with raisins and pine nuts) and the pounding of ingredients to form pastes. They encouraged the use of spices and even defined an order of eating in courses (ending with dessert) instead of simply piling everything onto one plate. (This didn't catch on in the central and eastern parts of the Islamic world. …