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A Marriage Of Culinary Traditions

Chef and restaurateur Todd Gray grew up in an Episcopalian home in Virginia. His marriage to Ellen Kassoff Gray -- now his business partner -- fused his roots and cooking style with her Jewish heritage. The two join us in studio to talk about merging culinary traditions and to look at how they put their seasonal, farm-to-table philosophy into practice daily at their D.C. restaurants: Equinox, Watershed and Muse cafe at the Corcoran Gallery.

Weezie’s Indian Summer Gazpacho With Pesto Croutons

From "The New Jewish Table" by Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff Gray.

Ellen: Indian summer has such a pleasant ring to it. It immediately conjures up a farm market with a cornucopia of produce, which straddles the seasons of summer and fall. Every Labor Day weekend, we go down to Todd’s parents' place in Irvington. It’s on the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia’s Northern Neck. We arrive in the early afternoon for a late lunch, and Weezie, Todd’s mother, always has her famous gazpacho ready for us. 

Todd: Her given name is Louise, but everyone calls her by her childhood nickname—not even my father calls her Louise. Mom’s gazpacho is something she’s always been known for. Her secrets: use V-8 for extra flavor, leave the soup fairly chunky and give it plenty of time in the refrigerator for all the flavors to meld. I added the pesto croutons because we have so much basil in our back yard every year that I have to come up with ways to use it, never wanting to waste a good harvest.

Makes 12 cups soup

Gazpacho Ingredients:
2 large ripe tomatoes, preferably an heirloom variety, cored and quartered
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium Vidalia onion, quartered
1 small green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped
6 cups V-8 Juice (four 12-ounce bottles)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco Sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 
Basil Pesto Ingredients:
4 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts (see Chef's Appendix)
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
 
Croutons Ingredients:
1 small baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
 
Make the gazpacho: Place the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and green peppers in the container of a bar blender. Process just until the vegetables begin to liquefy. Add the juice, oil, vinegar, Tabasco Sauce, salt, and pepper; process until the mixture is a coarse puree. Transfer to a food storage container, cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving. 
 
Make the pesto: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Stir in the basil and cook for 15 – 20 seconds then immediately drain in a colander. Rinse under cool running water and then, with your hands, completely squeeze out the water and transfer the basil to a cutting board or wooden bowl. Coarsely chop the basil with a kitchen knife or demi-lune. Place the basil, 3/4 cups of the oil, the garlic, and pine nuts in the container of a blender; process briefly to form a coarse puree. With the blender running, add the remaining 3/4 cup oil and continue to process until the mixture forms a fine paste. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the cheese, salt, and pepper; taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning if you wish.
 
Make the croutons: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Toss the bread cubes with the oil, red pepper flakes salt, and pepper on a baking sheet (Ellen likes to spray the oil over the bread); spread evenly. Bake the croutons for 10 minutes; then stir.  Continue to bake until toasted and crunchy—about 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack. Transfer the croutons to a large bowl and toss with 3/4 cup of the pesto. (Cover and refrigerate or freeze any leftover pesto.) When ready to serve, ladle the gazpacho into individual bowls and top with croutons, or pass the croutons at the table.

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