You know it's summer when gazpacho starts popping up on restaurant menus.
"It's a nice lightweight starter meal," says Glenn Harris, chef and owner of Jane (100 W. Houston St., 212-254-7000, janerestaurant.com). "It's refreshing, it's fresh and it's clean."
Harris starts putting the vitamin-rich, raw vegetable cold soup on Jane's lunch and dinner menus usually around the end of June, where it'll stay until "I can't get nice tomatoes locally anymore" -- usually around mid-September.
Jane's gazpacho is based on a traditional Spanish recipe that uses bread and olive oil to create a rich texture, while lemon juice and cucumbers add a "nice fresh quality."
The key, though, is the beefsteak tomatoes, which make for a balancing act over the course of the summer.
"At different times of the summer tomatoes will have different water content, which we try to balance it out with the bread," says Harris, who gets his tomatoes from New Jersey and Long Island farms. "Also the acidity of the tomatoes changes. We're constantly adjusting."
The recipe also works best with soft, overripe tomatoes -- the ones that have maybe been picked over at the farmer's market or not put on the shelves at the grocery store.
"It has to be fresh, but it can certainly be a softer tomato," says Harris. "You're not really looking for a texture on the tomato, but a ripeness."
Ciabatta bread helps prevent the tomato-based soup from becoming too "salsa-y," says Harris.
Those on a gluten-free diet therefore shouldn't forego the bread, but can easily substitute the ciabatta for a wheat-free variety.
Once cooled and pureed, the resulting raw vegetable soup is very versatile and open to experimentation. It can be served as an appetizer, eaten on its own with some bread or bulked up with protein like poached shrimp, scallops or crabmeat. Harris also recommends using it as a sauce for poached fish or grilled chicken.
"It lasts for a few days in the refrigerator," says Harris, "but the fresher the better."
3 large, ripe beefsteak tomatoes
1 Spanish onion
1 red bell pepper
4 cups tomato juice
4 ounces ciabatta
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. hot sauce
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/2 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1. Chop tomatoes, cucumber, onion and red bell pepper and place in large bowl.
2. Stir in the tomato juice, extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, hot sauce, lemon juice and ciabatta bread. Cover. Refrigerate 12 hours.
3. Remove from fridge and purée in a blender in batches or using an immersion blender.
4. Garnish with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, chopped chives, cracked pepper and sea salt to taste.
5. Serve chilled.