When I was a student and it was my turn to cook, gazpacho was one of my most successful starters. No cooking required and, with the aid of a blender, no effort either. But then I went and spoilt it. One night I decided to add vodka to this innocent, cold, Andalusian soup. It led to a calamity. An apparently benign Catholic priest took four cups of the stuff and proceeded to get extremely amorous with another male guest. His repeated assaults were not reciprocated, leading to an unholy imbroglio. I lost my enthusiasm for the recipe after that. But, thankfully, it’s now available ready-made. So we’ve tasted 10 of them for you – five imported from Spain and five from UK supermarkets and delis. And, for the avoidance of doubt, it was strictly virgin gazpacho all the way.
For this gig I was turned down by my normal retinue of Spanish tasters. A panic call to the FT Weekend Politburo led to the recruitment of a senior Iberian whose day job, in the Kremlin on Southwark Bridge, is all about analysing arcane price movements in pork bellies and iron ore. But he proved to be perfectly qualified for this exercise, having a grandmother in southern Spain who used to spoon-feed him the cold red stuff. The FT may not be aware of this, but I’ve now appointed him the newspaper’s first full-time Gazpacho Correspondent (GC). He was joined on the panel by the Discerning Litigator (DL) and the Gluttonous Pig (GP).
Our first piece of advice is that you should look carefully at the “use by” dates on the packets. This is supposed to be a quintessentially fresh soup. Two products, both in glass jars from Spain, recommended a shelf life stretching well into 2013. They were not to our taste at all. The first, Ferrer Gazpacho (“traditional – artisanal”), got this reaction: “terrible” (GC); “vinegary, anaemic” (GP). And Coquet Gazpacho: “strange whiff of gunpowder” (GP); “stale taste” (DL). But two fresher products from Britain did not prosper either. Rod and Ben’s Gazpacho (“award-winning”): “again, terrible” (GC); “strange, synthetic taste” (GP). And Eat’s Gazpacho Soup: “authentically chunky but thin flavour” (GP); “like a tin of chopped tomatoes” (DL).
Our Gazpacho Correspondent strongly advises adding your own garnish to bought soups – possibly Iberico ham, or grated cheese, or fried croutons, or simple chopped cucumber, tomatoes or peppers. He celebrates the many variants of the soup, in particular the version with stale bread, which makes it thicker and creamier. This he calls salmorejo. Finally, GC would not get out of bed for a gazpacho that doesn’t use extra virgin olive oil. Thankfully all three of our recommended soups do.
Third came Heston’s Tomato Gazpacho from Waitrose: “bit sweet but good flavour” (DL); “this is OK, though I’d add pepper or cucumber garnish” (GC). Second was Solfrío, authentically made in Andalucia itself, with 7 per cent extra virgin: “a hefty, oily flavour – yippee” (GP); “good oily, bready mix – much like salmorejo!” (GC). And our winning gazpacho, also from southern Spain, was Alvalle: “a fresh, Mediterranean breeze” (GP); “good balance – not too much garlic, thank God” (DL); “a bit liquid, but good oil and flavour” (GC). I gave myself a pat on the back because I first enjoyed this in Minorca earlier this summer and was gratified it emerged, in its own right, from a blind tasting.
A footnote about the New Covent Garden Food Company. Its website advertises gazpacho as a new addition to its range. But the company declined to send a sample, saying that if we bought it from a shop it would be fresher (though I can’t think why). I went to two Waitroses which had long displays of NCGFC soups, but no gazpacho, alas. If you ever find some and decide to taste it, do let me know what it’s like.
1. Alvalle Gazpacho Original, £3.99 for a one-litre carton; www.ocado.com
2. Solfrío Gazpacho Andalu, £4.70 for a one-litre carton; www.ibericalondon.co.uk
3. “Heston from Waitrose” Tomato Gazpacho, £3.49 for a 400g pot; www.waitrose.com