Monday, August 22, 2022

Plum Gazpacho

Am I wrong in thinking that plums are terribly overlooked? For every plum recipe on the internet and in cookbooks, there are like two dozen peach recipes (perhaps even more). Same with strawberries, blueberries, or any other summer fruit for that matter. Why is that so? Maybe because plums are not quite as straightforward, and they need a bit more work in recipes. Maybe because they are not as photogenic as bright summer berries. Something must have happened over the centuries because plums were one of the first fruits domesticated by humans. Maybe people just got bored. I think about this every time I roast plums, and I roast them quite often, because roasted plums are one of the most breathtaking dishes I could think of. You take one dense, deeply sweet, jeweled-colored spoonful, and the universe of flavors opens up: port wine, pinot noir, cinnamon, star anise, vanilla, aged balsamic… imagine, all of that hiding in this humble fruit. Roasted plums make an amazing jam, a glorious tart filling, and are oh-so-intoxicating over vanilla ice cream.

Last week, strolling through the markets of New York City, I noticed many more plum varieties than ever before. I picked up Damsons, elephant hearts, plumcots, apriums, and while on a stroll through Chinatown, even the elusive governor’s plums (they taste like concord grapes and bubble gum combined and make awesome popsicles). So perhaps plums are making a comeback and people are paying attention. I've lined up some new things to try with my bounty, and of course, will be doing my share of roasted plums, but today I want to share a cold dish I am really excited about. “Cold preparation,” as my grandmother Vera used to say. Between the two World Wars she had attended a finishing school for young ladies, where she had picked up a posh food vocabulary. I think that Vera would have been very proud of this plum gazpacho, as she was a fearless kitchen alchemist and a lover of all things beautiful. I applied some serious styling effort on this plate for her. 

I hope you will give this gazpacho some love, because it will love you back a million times over. I serve it to my friends in espresso cups, and they love me back a million times over too. And ask for a bigger cup next time. It’s a soup that will make you a plum convert. And then you’ll need more ideas. In that case you may want to check out some of my favorites: 1) balsamic glazed roasted plums and burrata toasts, 2) spiced plum pie, 3) a super simple plum cake I learned from my friend Vladimir, or 4) my most favorite recipe of all -- roasted plums with spices and vanilla ice cream. Hope this will keep you busy while plum season is around. 

Plum Gazpacho

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided (1 tablespoon + 3 tablespoons)
1 medium garlic clove, crushed but kept whole
1 slice sourdough bread (about 1 oz), crust removed, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 sprigs thyme
16 oz plums, apriums, or plumcots, hulled and quartered
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced (about 8 oz of cucumber dice)
4 oz tomatoes, diced
2 large jalapenos (about 2 oz), seeds removed, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon good quality aged balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
a pinch of ground black pepper

Heat a small frying pan over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and add the garlic clove. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the bread cubes. Toss occasionally until the bread begins to color, being careful not to burn. Add the thyme and continue to toss until the bread is golden brown. Transfer the bread to a large bowl. Discard the garlic and the thyme.

Add the plums, cucumber, tomatoes, jalapeno, remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper to the bowl. Toss to combine and cover with plastic wrap. Marinate at room temperature for about one to two hours, until the bread has softened. 

Transfer the content of the bowl to a blender and puree on high speed until very smooth. Strain through a chinois. Even if you have a powerful blender like Vitamix, do this, as it is a key to the velvety texture of this gazpacho. 

Chill in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. This is very important for flavors to come together, and the gazpacho will taste different after it has rested. Before serving, taste and adjust saltiness and acidity if needed. Serve chilled.

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