'Ugly' tomatoes shine in gazpacho

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Gazpacho is ubiquitous in the summer and one of the best ways to use those delicious but "ugly" tomatoes that are bursting with flavor but may not be pretty enough to slice.

And, often, tomato vendors at farmers' markets will sell the "dented" tomatoes at half price. Snap them up — they're perfect for gazpacho and tomato sauce.

The chilled summer soup that originated in southern Spain is generally made from raw tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and garlic.

These days there are countless variations of gazpacho (white gazpacho, anyone?) but my favorite one is made with grilled vegetables and the addition of watermelon and mint. The grilling of the vegetables adds a smoky element that makes the soup taste more like soup and less like vegetable juice to me. The watermelon adds a touch of sweetness and the mint perks everything up.

I don't want to lose the essence of the gazpacho so the vegetables are grilled over indirect heat only until they are crisp tender. The grill is pre-heated on high and the burners under the vegetables are turned off after you place the various ingredients on the grill so the watermelon and some of the vegetables will get grill marks on one side — this will contribute to the light smoky flavor.

The best part is that once the vegetables are grilled, you place everything in a blender and puree away. A little best quality olive oil, red wine vinegar and fresh mint and basil are all you need to finish this simple summer soup.

Grilled tomato gazpacho with watermelon and mint

Start to finish: 45 minutes, plus time to chill

Serves 4-6

Grilling Method: Indirect/Medium Heat

Ingredients:

4 large ripe tomatoes

1 yellow or red bell pepper

1 large English seedless cucumber

1 sweet (Vidalia) onion

2-3 cloves garlic

4 scallions

2 large slices of watermelon

3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing

3 to 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil and mint or other favorite herbs

Kosher salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Garnish:

1/4 cup sour cream or creme fraiche

3 tablespoons chopped basil and mint

Directions:

Preheat grill with all burners on high.

Stem the tomatoes and cut in half. Core and seed the pepper. Peel and halve the cucumber lengthwise. Peel the onion and garlic and cut the roots off the scallions. Place vegetables bottom-side down on the cooking grate. You can place the garlic inside the pepper, or in a disposable drip pan. Brush all the vegetables and the watermelon lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Place all vegetables in the center of the cooking grate and turn the burners off under the food. Be sure to close the lid of the grill. Grill over indirect heat until hot and beginning to soften, about 15 minutes. You want them to still be crisp. Transfer the vegetables to a platter to cool, reserving any juices that collect.

Chop vegetables into large chunks if necessary and place with oil, vinegar, herbs, and seasonings in a blender. Blend at high speed until smooth. Add vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. If the gazpacho seems too thick, thin with a little more olive oil. Add more vinegar to taste.

The gazpacho should be highly seasoned. Chill until serving.

Ladle gazpacho into shallow bowls. Garnish each with a dollop of sour cream or creme fraiche, and a sprinkling of chopped herbs.

Nutrition information per serving: 146 calories; 68 calories from fat; 8 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 93 mg sodium; 19 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 12 g sugar; 3 g protein.

Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."


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