About this time a year ago, I was working behind a cheese counter – gaining an intimate relationship with cheese. I cut thick wedges of goat gouda (and snacked it’s thin leftover shavings), I tenderly re-wraped the blue’s in an effort not to smear cobalt blue veins. I adjusted signs in the cheese case, served and explained cheeseboards and garnished plates with chutneys and micro greens. I confidently sliced crimson wings bresaola and ladeled cornichons.
The cheese shop ran as a dual lunch and dinner spot, dishing out cold sandwiches, unctuously drippy grilled cheese, rotating soups, and highly popular bread pudding muffins the size of pomelo. I never actually tried one those in their entirety.
In the sweltering days of mid July in Sacramento, when service was slow and there was no square inch of shop left to dust or clean to bide the time, I’d talk with the chef.
Bare bones, the guy was a Santa Cruz surf loving hippy that dreamed of rolling with the towns most acclaimed chefs. CIA trained, moody, short tempered, heavy set – a classic chef if I ever saw one. He rode to work on a big red cruiser, wore checkered collared t-shirts, rocked the closed-toe Birkenstocks, and preferred to blast Depeche Mode when we were closing up shop.
Most days he was enjoyable to be around. One of my fondest memories was on a slow summer afternoon, helping him make fresh mozzarella while watching the empty sidewalks shimmer in the 105 degree sunlight.
We had conversations about composting, rock climbing, and food – of course. I cannot describe what a true joy it is to click into conversation with another person as passionate about food as yourself. It’s a conversation as effortless as breathing, and as fluid as sharing memories with an old friend.
Over the course of my summer mongering, I absorbed pages of knowledge from this hippy chef: how to pickle coriander and diakon pods, and use butt ends of procsiutto in stews. I mentally jot down recipes as he rattled off ingredients for preserved lemon aioli and tips on how to cook shishito peppers – which were probably my favorite discovery from last summer.
This gazpacho recipe is a riff off of the one we served in house. Simple but with technique that I would never even think of.
Sadly, after about a year of being open the cheese shop closed it doors and boarded up its windows. It’s always heavy on the heart to see any small business fail, but even things that flicker in existence for a moment can leave things behind to be revered.
. H E I R L O O M . T O M A T O . G A Z P A C H O .
You could call this soup salsa, or you could deem it gazpacho but there’s no point in being technical – we’re all friends here. It takes only about 15 minutes of hands on prep work and the rest is simply patience.
2 red bell peppers, diced
3 whole cucumbers, seeds scooped out and diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 1/4 qt pear or Roma tomatoes(unprepped)
1.5 lb heirloom tomatoes (about two fat ones), diced
Aleppo pepper, parsley, basil, marjoram, or oregano, sherry vinegar, and spicy evoo to garnish
D A Y . 1
Put the diced onion in cold water for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse. Mix onion, cucumber, and bell pepper with a fat pinch of salt.
Blend the heck out of the Roma tomatoes in blender until they turn from pink to rich red (about 10 minutes). Add the purred tomatoes to the diced vegetable mixture and place everything in the fridge overnight.
D A Y . 2
Pulse the heirloom tomatoes in the food processor or blender to make them more meaty – they only need to pulse a few times. Add these to the soup. Add 2.5 cups of water, feel free to add more or less depending on on the consistency.
Add salt, fresh cracked black pepper, three pinches of Aleppo pepper, chopped herbs, and sherry vinegar (it “ties it all together”).