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My husband and I are lucky enough to live on the top floor of our building, which allows us luxuriously high ceilings with skylights that flood the space with light (not to mention a comfortable buffer between us and the basement-dwelling rats below). The trade-off for our rooftop view and rodent-free living? In the summer, the skylights turn our little studio apartment into a solar oven that easily runs a steamy 10 degrees hotter than the city streets. Our dog finds reprieve by waiting out the summer splayed in the bathtub, which, though tempting, isn't nearly as delicious as my chosen route to cooling off: living on juicy chilled watermelon.
When I want to make a meal out of watermelon, gazpacho is the best way to go. Gazpacho is a chilled soup made of bread and olive oil blended with raw vegetables; because it’s light and refreshing and requires no cooking, it’s the perfect meal for hot summers. A traditional gazpacho contains mostly tomato and cucumber, with some assistance from aromatics, but there are countless variations on the theme, like the delicate almond-, garlic-, and bread-based ajo blanco and other “white” gazpachos. This version combines watermelon, tomato, and fresh vegetables with almonds and olive oil for a bright and cooling soup.
I want watermelon to be the star of this recipe, so I’m breaking away from tradition by leaving out the bread entirely. The result is a lighter gazpacho that gets all its body from a handful of toasted almonds and a healthy pour of good extra-virgin olive oil.
Because it’s so light, I like to add some richness to the dish in the form of a Calabrian chili–spiked crema. The heat from the chilies and the tang of the crema balance the watermelon’s delicate sweetness, keeping this dish from becoming dessert. I also season the soup with sherry vinegar, whose nutty flavor with hints of dried fruit grounds the bright watermelon, while emphasizing the savory notes from ripe tomato.
To make the gazpacho, I start by tossing roughly diced watermelon, tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion with salt and pepper. The salt immediately begins breaking down the vegetables’ cell walls, releasing their juices and marrying their flavors. For his ultimate gazpacho, Kenji maximizes this cell-wall destruction in a two-part process, in which he first salts the vegetables, then freezes and thaws them. If you have time, you can follow his gazpacho procedure with this recipe as well, but in a pinch, this quick salting step alone will still do wonders for the flavor of the final soup.
After about an hour, the vegetables will have wilted, and their liquid will have pooled at the bottom of the bowl. This liquid is enough to blend the soup, so no additional water is needed. Using a blender, I blitz the gazpacho in batches, fully blending each batch until it's completely smooth before transferring it to a large bowl. After blending, the almonds will give the gazpacho a creamy and rich texture.
I finish the gazpacho by whisking in extra-virgin olive oil, sherry vinegar, and more salt and pepper to taste. This is the time to bust out my fanciest olive oil—because no heat is applied, all the flavors and aromatics of the olive oil can shine. The grassy notes and bitter edge of a high-quality olive oil will make all the difference in this simple dish, adding roundness and balance. Taking the time to taste and carefully adjust the seasoning is equally crucial in taking the dish from delicious to truly exceptional.
For an extra kick of flavor and heat, I stir chopped Calabrian chilies into some crema (Mexican sour cream) for a quick garnish to dollop onto the finished soup. You can use whatever chilies you have on hand, but I especially like the bright acidity and sharp spice of these Southern Italian peppers against the fresh watermelon. I opt for crema here because its lighter body makes it easy to drizzle onto the soup, but anything tangy and cool, like Greek yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk, can be used in its place. I also add a finishing touch of extra diced veggies, which not only adds crunch but also makes this soup into more of a meal.
Although you can serve it right away, the gazpacho only gets better after it's chilled out for a bit in the fridge, where the flavors meld and the soup gets extra frosty. I always adjust the seasoning just before serving, as the cold can affect your perception of taste.
When I’m counting down the summer days, sitting in a pool of my own sweat, nothing helps me beat the heat better than this refreshing gazpacho. It’s hydrating, it’s lunch, and it doesn’t require me to make my hot apartment any hotter.
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