Gazpacho in Paradise

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The open kitchen at Burlington’s “Paradiso”

I’m anxiously anticipating our July 8th, Go Cooking session in which Chef Adam Mackay, from Paradiso, will be demonstrating his cooking skills and serving his very own gazpacho. Over the years, I have fiddled around, trying out all sorts of recipes for this chilled summer soup and have finally settled on my own tried and true favorite. Now, I’m eager to taste the Chef’s version.

Paradiso

I am expecting great things, of course. Paradiso has long been one of my special “go-to” restaurants – I started out at the Oakville location and then was thrilled when the Burlington venue opened in Village Square.

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Chef Adam Mackay

As executive chef, Adam Mackay has been largely instrumental in building the stellar reputation of this Burlington landmark over the last ten years. In fact, Mackay has noted that his passion for cooking led him into Paradiso as a co-op student during high school. Later on, after becoming an honours graduate of the George Brown Culinary Management Program, he employed his innovative talents in the kitchen to create menus that are based on traditional menus, but always “taking a different idea and making it my own.”

“Everything has some form of the twist in it,” Mackay says. His stated philosophy regarding food is to use great ingredients and treat them with simple cooking techniques so that they are able to shine.

“It’s important to use ingredients that are in season and are as local as possible … Our open concept kitchen allows our guests to see what we do and to be a part of the dining experience from the kitchen’s point of view … what you can expect from the menu at Paradiso is a menu of great flavor, prepared well and treated with respect.”

The menu at Paradiso always has something new on it and, as you can imagine, I also love the concept of the open kitchen which provides entertainment, along with dinner. There are a couple of things you really should try, if/when you visit: the crab cakes are crispy and light and filled with plenty of tasty seafood and served with a spicy red pepper mayonnaise; if you are feeling very expansive, there’s a truly decadent chocolate cake which comes with a sort of toffee icing, all laced with a creamy banana puree.

The gazpacho seems to be something new, which is one reason why I find it so intriguing. And it does seem to me that good gazpacho is the very essence of summer.

The soup originated in the Spanish region of Andalusia and started out as just bread, olive oil, garlic, water and tomatoes. Now, the cliché description is of “a salad in a bowl” and peppers, cucumbers, onions, chives and other salad ingredients often are diced and added as a garnish. Gazpacho may be either red or white. The white version makes use of finely ground blanched almonds and is served in very small portions – almost like a sauce instead of a soup. It is sometimes scattered with chopped hard-boiled egg and julienne strips of Serrano ham. Anyway, like all other refreshing summer soups – from sour cherry to vichysoisse – gazpacho must be served very cold

I firmly believe, however, that great tomatoes – whether fresh or canned — are the quintessential ingredient for this classic hot weather specialty. In fact, the pure flavor of the ripe tomatoes, the Sherry vinegar and some really fine olive oil, are what impart true character to the soup and I will stubbornly resist all efforts to add bits and bites and modern twists such as chopped olives or mango pickles or (yikes!) green grapes.

Anyway – here’s my “purist” version. I have always found it completely addictive. To get the Chef’s recipe – well – we’ll see you at our July 8th Go Cooking session.

E. Hujer

gazpacho

Gazpacho “El Faro”
adapted from a recipe in Gourmet magazine, August, 2002

2 inch long piece of baguette, crust discarded
2 garlic cloves
2 tsps. salt
2 tbsps. Sherry vinegar
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cumin (optional)
2 1/2 lb. ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
1/2 cup mild extra virgin olive oil

1) Soak bread in 1/2 cup water
2) Mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a large knife)
3) Blend garlic paste, bread, 2 tbsps. vinegar, sugar, cumin and half of tomatoes in a food processor until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes with motor running and when very finely chopped, gradually add oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.
4) Force soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.
5) Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving.

My Notes

This is based on a classic Andalusian recipe. (I believe that El Faro – the lighthouse — is a coastal area in Spain.) The tomatoes must be very ripe and it must be served very cold. Resist the urge to add ice cubes, however, which will dilute the flavour. Some people like to garnish it with chopped cucumber and onion or finely chopped red and green peppers. I prefer it unadulterated — but suit yourself.

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