Chef John Folse's Spicy Creole Gazpacho

Prep Time: 1 Hour
Yields: 8-10 Servings

In the hot Louisiana climate, a chilled tomato soup such as this one is revered as a delicacy. Serve this gazpacho in a punch or coffee cup as an interesting appetizer before the guests are seated at the dinner table.

Ingredients for Croutons:
4 French bread slices, 3/4-inch thick
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp chopped oregano
1 tsp chopped basil
1/2 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp minced garlic
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 300°F. Cut French bread into 3/4-inch cubes with crust on. In a heavy-bottomed cast iron skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Stir in oregano, basil, rosemary and garlic. Sauté 1-2 minutes, being careful not to scorch garlic. Add French bread and sauté until croutons are thoroughly coated. Season lightly with salt. Remove croutons from skillet, spread evenly on a large cookie sheet, and bake for 30 minutes or until crisp. Set aside.

Ingredients for Soup:
6 (6-ounce) cans V-8 juice
2 cups tomato juice
3 tbsps white wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup whole kernel corn
1 cup canned butter beans
1 cup seeded diced tomatoes
1 cup diced cucumbers
1/2 cup diced green bell peppers
1/2 cup diced yellow bell peppers
1/2 cup diced zucchini
1/2 cup diced summer squash
1/4 cup diced onions
1/4 cup minced garlic
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Louisiana hot sauce to taste
10/4 cup chopped cilantro or parsley

In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except cilantro or parsley. Season to taste using salt, pepper and hot sauce. Stir in all but 1 tablespoon of cilantro or parsley. Cover soup tightly with plastic wrap and chill a minimum of 4-6 hours. To serve, pour gazpacho into chilled cups or bowls and top with croutons and a sprinkle of cilantro or parsley.