It isn't remotely authentic, but this riff on Spanish salmorejo with eggplant is delicious. Instead of frying the eggplant in olive oil, it is roasted at high heat, mixed with garlic, parsley, lemon and toasted walnuts, and spooned onto slices of toasted baguette.
Ssshhhh….don’t tell a soul.
At least not anyone who’s been wailing about a lack of tomatoes this summer.
The big news, around here, is that they’re back.
And I’m not talking about dull-tasting, pale-looking “shoulder season” tomatoes.
No, what we’ve got here are rich-tasting, sun-warmed, so-ripe-the-juice-just-spurts-when-you bite-into-them tomatoes. Cut a dark green-burgundy Japanese Black Trifele with a knife and sweetly acidic tomato essence will flood the kitchen counter and drip onto the floor if you don’t slurp it up quickly.
They’re so luscious you don’t even need salt.
How is this possible? “Well, we did a second planting…” said a guy at the McAdams Farm stand. He was a little vague, but that’s OK. Some secrets are meant to be kept close. All I care about is having another week—or maybe two—of my favorite summer fruit.
Once again, I found myself slinking into the house with two big bags, about 9 pounds each, bursting with tomatoes. And at long last, I finally had enough tomatoes to make salmorejo.
Traveling through Andalucia last spring, B and I ate this thick uncooked tomato soup many times. Served cold or at room temperature, it’s considered a gazpacho, but one that’s richer and smoother than usual because the principal ingredients are nothing more than ripe tomatoes thickened with day-old bread soaked in water and copious amounts of olive oil. Oh, and a clove or two of garlic.
Salmorejo can be dressed up in a variety of ways. Teresa Barrenechea’s traditional recipe in Cuisines of Spain is spiked with sherry vinegar and topped with finely chopped hard boiled eggs and jamon serrano. There is a prodigious quantity of olive oil in the soup, incidentally--1 cup for 6 tomatoes.
We tasted a more refined version at the Gastroteca de Santiago in Madrid, a tiny restaurant on a church plaza, where chef Juan Carlos Ramos delights in re-inventing the classics. Here the salmorejo was an amuse-bouche, a creamy puree flecked with chives, served in little shot glasses into which a single ripe cherry had been dropped.
The soup gets complicated in Sevilla, by the way. One day when I was wandering around—actually I had lost both B and our hotel—I ran across a small bookshop with a wondrous cookbook section. The proprietress, bespectacled, harried and a little severe, pointed me towards Receteas de Cocina Sevillana (Recipes from the Sevillian Kitchen). “I don’t cook much, “ she admitted, "but whenever I do these are good recipes.”
The three recipes for salmorejo, contributed like all the rest by the city's home cooks and a few restauranteurs, were mind-bogglingly different: besides the usual ingredients, they involve, respectively, the meat of a sauteed rabbit; oranges, pomegranates and fried fish; and a partridge.
At Taberna Salinas, the salmorejo is made by hand in a mortar and pestle. In the tapas bar, which is devoted to the bullfighter Manolete, the bartender pours two glasses of local red wine to go with the soup.
But the labyrinthian city of Cordoba seems to be the real home of salmorejo, where it is often accompanied by slices of fried eggplant. The most delicious version can be had at Taberna Salinas, a 1879 restaurant with a bar that is a virtual shrine to Manolete, the sad-eyed bullfighter who died in 1947 after fighting five fierce bulls and being gored in the leg in the town of Linares. Manolete was so beloved in Spain that only funeral dirges were aired on the radio for three days after his death.
The way Taberna Salinas does it, Berenjenas Fritas con Salmorejo is a dish to die for. The name is a tip off—it’s really about eggplant with a little tomato puree. You dip thin slices of eggplant, fried in olive oil, into a bowl of the soup, almost as if you’re dipping a chip into salsa. The contrasting flavors are addictive—the rich oiliness of the eggplant a perfect foil for the tangy blend of tomato and garlic.
Why so delicious? The 23-year old bartender winked at me. “It’s made by hand,” he said. By hand? “In a mortar and pestle, back in the kitchen. They grind the tomatoes with garlic and bread soaked in water, then the olive oil.” That’s it? He paused thoughtfully. “Well, everything comes from the owner’s huerta (farm). We make our own olive oil. “
Back here, the thought of grinding all those tomatoes and frying eggplant was just too much to tackle on a sleepy Saturday. But surely a creditable version could be made in the food processor. And those pale violet Japanese eggplants that came in the CSA box could be roasted at high heat in the oven. And so I concocted a not remotely authentic, but entirely delicious version of Cordoban salmorejo.
If you’re out of tomatoes, too bad. But don’t let that be an excuse for not making the eggplant—roasted and mashed with garlic, lemon, parsley, and toasted walnuts, and spread on toasted baguette slices, they are divine.
You can make a meal of them.
Salmorejo with Eggplant, Parsley and Garlic Toasts
To serve 2
Ingredients for the salmorejo:
2 pounds ripe tomatoes
1 or 2 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups day old bread, torn into pieces (I used the inside of a stale baguette)
Water for soaking the bread
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Method for the Salmorejo:
1. Put the bread in water to soak for about ten minutes.
2. Bring a medium pot of water to boil. Dip each tomato into the boiling water for 12 seconds. Remove and let cool.
3. Core each tomato, slip off the skin, and cut in half. Squeeze the juice and seeds from each tomato half into a bowl. Put the tomato pulp in another bowl and continue with the remaining the tomatoes. (Don’t toss out the juice—it’s delicious. Pour it into a glass and drink it up as a reward for all the hard work you’ve been doing.)
4. Put the tomato pulp and garlic in the food processor and puree. Squeeze the water out of the bread and add half of it to the processor. Puree until it is smooth. Check for taste and body, adding more bread as needed. The soup should be thick, but the tomato flavor should dominate. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil with the processor running. Add salt and little pepper to taste.
5. Pour the salmorejo into a container and refrigerate until needed. (Do not make this more than a few hours ahead—it will not be as good if sits much longer.)
Ingredients for the eggplant toasts:
1-1/2 pounds slender Japanese eggplants
1 tablespoon olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon, or to taste
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-1/2 cups flat leaf Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
¾ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small baguette
Olive oil for brushing
Method for the Eggplant Toasts:
1. Set the oven to 500 degrees. Trim the tops off the eggplants and rub them all over with olive oil. Place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them over 2 or 3 times, until they are very soft and the skins have burst.
2. Remove the eggplant to a plate and let cool. When cool enough to handle, cut each eggplant down the side and scrape out all the soft flesh with a spoon. Discard the skins.
3. On a large plate or in a shallow bowl, mash the eggplant with the lemon juice, garlic and parsley until the mixture is fairly smooth. A potato masher is a good tool for this, but you could also use a large fork. The idea is not to puree the mixture (no food processor please), but to leave some texture. Stir in the olive oil and the toasted walnuts and mix well. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Taste and correct the seasonings. Set aside.
4. Set the oven to 350 degrees. Slice the baguette on the diagonal so that you have 8 pieces about 3 inches in length, no more than ½ inch thick, and arrange them on a baking sheet. Bake for 12 minutes, then turn, brush them with olive oil and bake for another 12 minutes until they are crisp and just beginning to turn golden. Remove the toasts to a plate and let cool.
5. To serve, pour the salmorejo into two bowls. Top the toasts with the eggplant mixture and serve them alongside the soup, or on a separate plate.