Thanksgiving Wine, Menu Planning and Minty Gazpacho

It's not too early for those of us who love to cook to start planning our Thanksgiving menu. It's bound to be a heavy feast with a lot of rich food, so starting with a light, lo-cal soup sounds perfect to me. It's chilled and crisp with enough flavor to pique to the taste buds' interest but won't fill you up before the main course arrives. Plus, you can make this a day or two beforehand, cutting down on the time in the kitchen on the big day. I'm always looking for an excuse to chop vegetables with my chef's knife (see Aug.10 post); but if you don't have the "joy of chopping", this soup is quickly prepared in the food processor. Historians believe gazpacho was created during the Roman occupation of southern Spain--no blenders then! Originally crushed in a dornillo or large wood bowl in the fields, the soup was a common lunch for the agricultural workers. The addition of tomato to the gazpacho originated with Christopher Columbus who initiated the era of exchange of plants and animals (and unfortunately, diseases) between the Old World and the New. Imagine if the exchange had never happened. Italian cuisine would be without tomatoes and the Swiss would be bereft of chocolate! In Spain, there are regional variations of gazpacho, some without tomato, some adding almonds, or cumin. I made this version with mint from the garden. Instead of adding bread to the soup, as is common with Spanish recipes, I toasted the bread Italian style with olive oil and Parmesan for crunchy croutons.
4 medium very ripe tomatoes
1 cucumber
1/2 green bell pepper
3 garlic cloves
1/2 small sweet white or red onion
2 tsp. white vinegar
9 Tbsp. olive oil approximately (5 for soup, around 4 for the croutons)
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. minced mint plus one sprig for each serving as garnish
2 Tbsp. minced cilantro
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper
2 slices whole grain bread, 2 day old is best
3 Tbsp. grated Parmesan
2 tsp. fines herbes (purchased in spice section or made from recipe below)
Boil enough water to submerge tomatoes, when it boils, add the tomatoes and cook a couple of minutes or just until the skin splits. Remove and cool, then peel off the skins. Put the tomatoes in a flat bowl and mash thoroughly with a potato masher (or process in food processor). Peel the cucumber and cut in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Mince the cucumber, bell pepper, onion and garlic finely by hand or with food processor. Add to the tomatoes along with the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, minced cilantro and onion. Mix well and chill (at least an hour). Cut the crusts off the bread, toast until dry, then remove and brush with olive oil, sprinkle with cheese and fines herbes then toast until golden brown. Cut them into small croutons about 1" square. To serve, put 3/4 to 1 cup of gazpacho in a small bowl (this recipe makes 4 cups) and garnish with croutons and a sprig of mint. Refreshing with a crisp glass of the 2006 RaDog Dry Gewurztraminer.
This week's Online Grapevine wine discount special is four perfect Thanksgiving wines: RECIPE FOR FINES HERBES:
Simple! Mix equal parts chopped chives, chervil, parsley and tarragon and use for sprinkling on salads, cooked eggs, soups and croutons.

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