The Celluloid Pantry: Spiked Gazpacho and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Spain, 1988)

The Celluloid Pantry: Spiked Gazpacho and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Spain, 1988)

Nora Maynard
May 29, 2007

In Pedro Almodovar's zippy comedy, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988), a series of coincidences and high drama involving a jilted actress, a "Mambo Taxi," a lost shoe, live chickens, ducks and geese, a borrowed dress, a deranged ex-wife with a gun and a beehive hairdo, Shiite terrorists, a feminist lawyer, and a bossy virgin are whirled together until soothed and cooled by a pitcher of barbiturate-laced gazpacho.

Pepa (Carmen Maura, right) a voice-over actress, has just learned via answering machine that her ex-boyfriend Ivan (Fernando Gullen) is leaving on a trip with another woman and wants her to gather up his things for him in a suitcase. Pepa does as she's asked, but then decides to whip up a pitcher of Ivan's favorite dish, gazpacho, and fix it so he stays around the apartment a little longer than planned. So, along with the traditional ripe tomatoes, day-old bread, cucumber, green pepper, and seasonings, she adds a couple dozen sleeping pills.

Complications ensue as unexpected guests keep arriving. The pitcher gets pushed aside in the fridge until rediscovered by Marisa (Rossy de Palma), the fiance of Ivan's son, Carlos (played by an astonishingly geeky-looking Antonio Banderas, left). The chilled soup knocks Marisa out cold. Pepa is alarmed at first, but then realizes the dish has potential: as the police, the telephone repairman, Ivan's ex-wife, and a hysterical fashion model show up, everyone gets treated to a cup of soup and a nice, soothing siesta.

Often referred to as "liquid salad," gazpacho is a wonderfully refreshing dish in hot weather. Originating among rural workers in Andalusia, it was traditionally made with leftover bread pounded and softened in a bowl with water, olive oil, and whatever other ingredients happened to be on hand. Regional variations include almonds, lemon juice, egg whites, hot peppers and green beans, to name just a few.

The following recipe is adapted from Vincent and Mary Price's A Treasury of Great Recipes (1965) passed on to the Prices by the chef at the restaurant Sobrino de Bot'n (founded 1725) in Madrid:

Gazpacho Andaluz
(serves 4 to 6)

6 thin slices stale white bread
3 very ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 red or green pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons wine vinegar (sherry vinegar is especially good)
ground cumin

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste. [Add water or tomato juice to desired consistency.] Serve chilled.

Tell us about your favorite spin on gazpacho.

- Nora

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