Gazpacho

This classic soup adapts itself to any variation. Be creative. (Handout)

1 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/2 loaf day-old Italian bread, crusts removed and bread cut into 1-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups tomato juice (V-8 preferred)

Garnish
1/4 loaf day-old Italian bread, cut into ½-inch cubes
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 green bell pepper, seeded, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 English cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice

To make the soup: In a large mixing bowl combine the tomatoes, peppers and cucumber.

In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil and garlic over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Simmer very gently for about 15 minutes, or until the garlic is browned and tender. Transfer to the mixing bowl and add the bread cubes.

Stir the ingredients together and then add the vinegar, cumin, cayenne and salt. Season with black pepper and set aside for about 1 hour to marinate.

Working in batches, blend the marinated vegetable and bread mixture in a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade until puréed. Transfer the purée to a large bowl and continue until it is all puréed. If it is too dry, add a few tablespoons of tomato juice to thin it out to suit your taste.

Strain into another bowl and then stir in the tomato juice. Taste the soup and adjust the seasonings with salt and vinegar, if needed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

To make the garnish: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Put the bread cubes in a medium bowl and pour olive oil over them. Toss to mix so the bread absorbs the olive oil, then spread the bread cubes out over a sheet pan and bake for about 4 minutes. Rotate the pan, turn the croutons over, and continue baking for another 4 minutes until they are browned and crisp.

Ladle 1-1/2 to 2 cups of soup into each chilled soup bowl. Garnish each with about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the scallion, pepper and cucumber mixture. Top with about 2 tablespoons of croutons and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.