Chilled Fennel Gazpacho with Olive Ciabatta Croutons
I've always loved gazpacho and never fail to order it when I'm in Spain or Portugal: it really is one of the nicest first courses when the weather is warm. This version is the same but different – the same refreshing, salady texture but with quite a different flavour. Serve warm if the weather's chilly, but if you are serving it cold, do make sure that it's really cold. Chill the bowls first and add some ice cubes just before serving.
First, skin the tomatoes: pour boiling water over them and leave for 1 minute before draining them and slipping off the skins (protect your hands with a cloth if they're too hot).
Then chop the tomatoes roughly. Next, trim the green fronds from the fennel (reserve these for garnish) and cut the bulb into quarters. Trim away a little of the central stem at the base and slice the fennel into thinnish slices.
Now place these in a saucepan with the salt and measure 15 fl oz (425 ml) of water. Bring it up to simmering point, then put a lid on and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, crush the coriander seeds and mixed peppercorns in a pestle and mortar. Then heat the oil in a large saucepan and add the crushed spices, along with the chopped onion. Let these cook gently for 5 minutes, then add the crushed garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Now add the balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, chopped tomatoes and oregano, stir well, then add the fennel, along with the water in which it was simmering. Finally, stir in the tomato purée, bring everything up to simmering point and simmer gently, without a lid, for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 5, 375°F (190°C). First, cut the bread into small cubes, then place them in a bowl, together with the olive oil and paste, and stir them around to get a good coating of both.
Now arrange the croutons on a small baking sheet and put them in the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes – but pelase put on a timer for this as 10 minutes pass very quickly and croutons have a nasty habit of turning into cinders! Then leave to cool on the baking sheet. Cool the soup a little, then whiz to a puree in a blender (a bowl to put the first batch in is helpful here). When the soup has cooled completely, cover and chill for several hours.
Serve, garnished with the olive croutons and the chopped green fennel fronds.