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Saturday, May 01, 2010

Gazpacho Manchego


Gazpacho manchego is yet another iconic item on the Spanish menu, not that you will see it on many restaurant menus. As you may have guessed from the name it comes from the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain, the center of the country and considered by many to be the heart and soul of Spanish culture (as opposed to the cultures of Catalunya, Galicia, Asturias, Valencia, etc.). This dish is the very definition of hearty peasant food. There are a few basic things you need to know about gazpacho manchego.  
First of all, it is not to be confused with the chilled tomato soup sharing part of its name, gazpacho andaluz. This gazpacho is a shepherd’s stew with loads of meat.  When I began to do some research into gazpacho manchego I found that you can make it with chicken, rabbit, hare, partridge, quail, pigeon, mushrooms, onions, chicken livers, gizzards, and just about anything you can think of. So back in the old days it went down something like this:  the shepherds would blast anything that moved, throw it in a pot with whatever vegetables they had on hand, and then they added bread to the mixture. The key ingredient here being the addition of bread or dough.
In the dozens and dozens of recipes I poured over the only unifying ingredient I found was the bread that is added at the end of the cooking process.  The bread used now in gazpacho manchego (at least most of them) is called tortas cenceñas. They are kind of like crackers—unleavened, unsalted, and toasted. Besides the addition of the tortas cenceñas the other ingredients are whatever you decide. I found the same thing true concerning the spices. Some ingredients called for saffron, some cumin, and a lot of other herbs and spices. It seems to me that there isn’t a universally accepted recipe, unlike paella Valenciana, for example. I think that personal interpretation and improvisation based on whatever ingredients are available are essential aspects of making gazpacho manchego.
For my own recipe I have distilled at least 20 variations. That is usually how I begin to prepare any new dish. I search for as many recipes as I can find and take from each one anything I feel to be worthwhile. I almost never just lift an entire recipe from someone else. Each thing I cook has my own personal watermark. This is certainly true of the gazpacho manchego I make in this video.
One problem with a peasant dish like gazpacho manchego is that the final presentation is a little less than spectacular which is probably why you don’t see it in many restaurants. It ain’t yuppie food, that is for sure but if it is a cold winter’s day and you want to eat like a Spanish shepherd, this might be the dish for you.   

3 comments:

  1. Ok so I guess I do want to eat like a Spanish Shepherd. Yet maybe I am only worthy of eating like a Shepherd assistant. Do either of then use plates?

    albier

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  2. The shepherd assistant gets to lick the pot. No plates with this dish, you eat right from the pan.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Stumbled upon your blog while looking for a recipe for this dish. I had it at a friend of my family's house for lunch when in Spain and it was wonderful. The hostess made it with snails, which I had never had before. Turned out that I loved them! What a filling dish, though. I had one small bowl and was so unbelievably full--must be the tortas.

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