Summer is perfect for the newest foodie ideal currently returning to our culture of health - that we take ownership over our own health through foods grown close to home. This "farm to table" concept already has a media presence: the Obama's are planting a garden on the White House lawn, US News and World Report reported the number one consumer trend to be vegetable gardening, and the mantra to "eat local" is even finding its way into conventional grocery stores.
A PERFECT FARM-TO-TABLE EXPERIENCE
A perfect everyday example for our own personal farm to table experience is to grow our own gazpacho. In case you don't know, gazpacho is a cool summer soup, which is basically a delicious liquid salad of Andalusian (Spanish) origins. The ancient version of this soup included only stale bread, garlic, olive oil, and vinegar (the tomato base came later ... about 400 years ago), and served as an everyday poor man's food made of common garden staples and leftover bread.
Today though, gazpacho still includes bread and garlic, olive oil and vinegar, but a garden of gracious flavors have since been added: tomatoes, cucumbers, and bell peppers at the very least. Obviously, the best gazpacho on planet Earth will come from the vegetables we grow with our own hands, in our own earth, in our own gardens.
So, how can we do that?
GETTING THE INGREDIENTS
Finding good quality vegetable plants is just like finding good quality vegetables themselves. You can get them from large retail outlets that have gardening sections, but the best quality will be found at your local farmers' markets where you can find vegetable plants coming from the farmers themselves. The advantage of purchasing your plants directly from them is that you can get the heirloom varieties that have not been bred and cross-bred and cross-cross-bred, just to produce some uniform trait and homogenized flavor. That's how to get a tomato that has not yet been turned into a widget.
Few items are easier to grow than the basic three vegetables in gazpacho - tomatoes, bell peppers, and cucumbers - with just a couple of pointers to remember.
PLANTING YOUR GAZPACHO
All of these vegetables grow wonderfully in porch pots or in an outdoor bed, and each requires the same basic conditions: plenty of sun along with well drained, moist earth beneath them. When you're ready to plant your ingredients, first turn some organic compost (found in any garden section) and mulch (such as wood chips or bark) into the soil. Then set the plants about two feet apart from each other.
Tomatoes need to be tied to a stake or set inside a wire cage to keep the heavy fruit from pulling its limbs to the ground. Cucumbers are vines and will run either along the ground or up a trellis (if you need to conserve space). Peppers are small bushes, and so can stand alone. But all of these succulent plants love their sun and love their water, so make sure the soil stays moist, by just giving them a drink each day. Harvest your fruit as it ripens, and set on the kitchen counter. It's really that easy.
PREPARING YOUR GAZPACHO
This amazing soup is as easy to throw together as it is delicious to eat. From your gazpacho garden, you'll need 4 large ripe tomatoes, 1 red bell pepper, and 2 cucumbers. Then, to spice it up, you'll also need 1 clove of garlic (minced), about 2 Tbsp each of minced basil and rosemary, 3 Tbsp lime juice, some Tobasco, salt and pepper to taste.
First, score the skins of the tomatoes and put them in a pot of boiling water for about 15 seconds or so. Pull them out, slide the skins off, cut into quarters to remove the seeds, and then coarsely chop. You'll also chop the bell pepper and peeled cucumber. Soak 2-3 slices of stale bread in water for a couple of minutes, and then squeeze out the excess.
Put the bread and chopped vegetables in a food processor with 2 cloves of chopped garlic and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. If you like your gazpacho with more body, keep out a handful of the veggies, mince them, and add back to the soup at the end. Otherwise, puree the entire mixture until smooth. Leave the machine running and slowly add 2 cups of tomato juice along with 1 ½ cups of organic stock (organic vegetable, chicken, or beef), and ½ cup of olive oil.
Salt and pepper to taste, and refrigerate for a couple of hours or overnight. The flavors will marry and improve over time, so taste for the salt, pepper, and vinegar after a while. You can thin this soup, if you like it more brothy, with stock.
EATING THE GAZPACHO
At the end of a hot summer day, you'll welcome the crisp coolness of this refreshing meal, especially when you're eating it outside. Plus, you made this delicious dinner for yourself without ever turning on the stove! To make your gazpacho a complete meal, head out to your porch and start with a little ripened melon, rolled prosciutto, a few olives, and a crisp white wine of your choosing.
The gazpacho itself can then be served, garnished with a drizzle of your best olive oil, or even sour cream, to your tastes. Be sure to sample the aroma as you taste, and include a lighter red wine with this course. You want this portion of the meal last as long as possible, so don't rush through it.
Finish with a few slices of well aged cheddar and dried cherries to cap the perfect end to the perfect summer meal. Take enough time with your gracious gazpacho evening to recognize what you've accomplished by putting nutritious food on your table, with your own hands.
Now relax, exhale, and let yourself enjoy the ebbing day.
Dr. Will Clower is an award winning author, media personality, CEO of Mediterranean Wellness, and the founder and director of the Mediterranean PATH.