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A Spanish classic evolves

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These days, gazpacho remains a summer staple. In July and August, it not only appears on most restaurant menus in the country, but in a large proportion of Spanish homes as well. A 2007 survey showed that 74 percent of Spaniards regularly eat gazpacho as a first course in summer.

But for all its omnipresence, no two gazpachos are alike. Regional differences account for some of the variation: In Malaga, for example, they make a white version – without tomatoes – called ajo blanco that replicates those early, pre-Columbian soups, while in Córdoba, the tomato base is thickened with bread until it becomes the saucelike salmorejo. And home cooks tweak the recipe with personal touches.

Among Spain's high-end chefs as well, gazpacho presents a seemingly endless range of possibilities. And no chef today is more famous for his whimsical – and delicious – interpretations than Dani García. At his restaurant Calima, in Marbella, Chef García serves a cherry gazpacho with anchovies and another, made with green tomatoes and ginger, that he garnishes by turning an essence of crab coral into a type of gelée.

"Is it a food? Is it a drink? With all its different ingredients and colors and textures, gazpacho offers so many possibilities," Garcia says. "It gives you a chance to be really creative." Creative indeed. This year, the 33-year-old chef introduced a new ajo blanco that uses smoke and a "snow" made from litchis to re-create the landscape of the nearby Sierra Nevada mountain range.

At the top of the gazpacho section of García's menu appears a title: "An approximation of the primal flavors of our land." The line is a reminder that for all his innovation, García, like so many Spaniards, is drawn to gazpacho not only for what it can become, but for what it has been. "If you're like me and you grew up in the area, you've been eating it since you were a baby," he says. "It marks you. Gazpacho is our culture."

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