2007 is shaping up to be an exceptional year for strawberries. The markets are overflowing with them, they're reasonably priced, and we've yet to see any duds. Try and get the most freshly harvested strawberries you can--it does make a difference, no matter what you have in store for them. We got half a flat of the most perfect strawberries you can imagine (just look at 'em), and it only came to $10 for six pints (and it would have been $18 if we'd gotten twelve). You'll find it hard to focus long enough to actually think of cooking with them--because once you start popping them back, it's difficult to stop--but when strawberries are this good and this cheap you're actually in a position to use them with abandon.
Now, I'd been dreaming of making this strawberry gazpacho that I'd noticed in Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table for ages. Thing is, gazpacho is generally a dish that begs to be made when ingredients (like tomatoes) are at their peak, and in this case you need both excellent tomatoes and excellent strawberries. I wouldn't exactly call the tomatoes that are available at the markets right now "excellent" necessarily, but they're not bad, and the strawberries more than make up for them.
If the thought of combining strawberries and tomatoes weirds you out a little, GET OVER IT. You won't believe just how refreshing this combination of tomatoes, strawberries, fennel, green bell pepper, and garlic is. And everything becomes even headier and more interesting as you season it with salt and pepper and add a final drizzle of olive oil.
Strawberry and Fennel Gazpacho
1 cup cubed day-old country bread, crusts removed [confession: we used a day-old Portuguese bun and we didn't remove the crust and it worked like a charm]
2 pounds ripe, flavorful tomatoes (roughly 3 large beefsteak tomatoes), seeded and chopped + 2 tbsp seeded and finely diced for garnish
2 pounds strawberries (roughly 3 pints of strawberries), hulled and chopped + 2 tbsp hulled and diced
1/4 medium-size fennel bulb, thinly sliced + 2 tbsp finely diced
1 large green bell pepper, cored and seeded and chopped + 2 tbsp finely diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1/4 - 1/2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/4 cups chilled bottled spring water
2 medium garlic cloves, crushed with a garlic press
salt and pepper to taste
Place the bread in a bowl, add cold water to cover, and let soak for 5-10 minutes. Drain the bread and squeeze out the excess liquid.
Mix the soaked bread, the chopped tomatoes, the strawberries, the green pepper, and the fennel in a large bowl. Let stand for about 15 minutes. Working in two batches, place the vegetable mixture in a food processor and process until smooth, adding half of the olive oil to each batch. Once each batch is processed, puree it finely in a blender, then transfer it to a large mixing bowl. Add the spring water and the garlic and stir. The gazpacho should have the consistency of a smoothie. Season the soup to taste with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper and refrigerate it, covered, for roughly 2 hours.
Place the finely diced tomato, strawberries, green pepper, and fennel in a bowl. Salt and pepper to taste. Add a tiny bit of olive oil and an even tinier amount of balsamic vinegar and toss.
When the gazpacho has been chilled, spoon the diced tomato mixture into shallow bowls and ladle the chilled gazpacho around it (or pour it out of a pitcher, like we did). Drizzle olive oil over the surface and serve.
[adapted from The New Spanish Table, Anya von Bremzen]