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If you're preparing a dish that uses vinegar for flavor, consider sherry vinegar.

The Spanish product is aged in oak casks for at least six months. Together with its sherry background, that gives sherry vinegar a nutty, mellower flavor, especially when paired with good olive oil.

That's why salad masters reach for sherry vinegar for piquant vinaigrettes and simple yet swoonful dressings. Sprinkled over grilled vegetables or as the tang in panzanella bread salad, it adds nuanced acidity when used in moderate amounts.

Balsamic buddies: Aged sherry vinegars rival better-known balsamic vinegars in character. Look for "Vinagre de Jerez" on the label to ensure it's oak-aged. "Vinagre de Jerez Reserva" must have been aged at least two years. "Vinagre de Jerez Gran Reserva" has at least 10 years in the cask, and is priced accordingly.

Here, sherry vinegar accents another Spanish import, gazpacho. The late-summer chilled soup makes excellent use of tomatoes too ripe to slice. Purists skin their tomatoes and strain their puree. The Martha Stewart recipe used as inspiration here does neither. I added tomato skinning instructions, but skip them for the easiest gazpacho.

> Gazpacho

For the soup:

2 cups cubed, crustless, day-old bread

2 garlic cloves

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

2 pounds fully ripe tomatoes

1/2 of a roasted, skinned red pepper

1 4-inch piece English cucumber, peeled and seeded

1 1-inch-thick slice green bell pepper

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 cup cold water, plus more for soaking

For the croutons:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup torn rustic bread

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Cover bread with cold water, and let soak. Meanwhile, skin tomatoes: use a sharp knife to score an X through the skin of the tomatoes' bottoms. Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in the garlic cloves.

Add the tomatoes and cook until their skins start loosening, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately remove the tomatoes to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. Remove the blanched garlic cloves and reserve.

Slip skins from the tomatoes, using a knife if needed. Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out seeds and water.

Squeeze water from bread, and put in blender. (May need two batches for small blenders.) Add 2 teaspoons salt, the garlic, tomatoes, cucumber, bell pepper and vinegar. Puree until smooth. With machine running, pour in oil in a slow, steady stream, blending until emulsified. Blend in cold water. Season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate gazpacho until chilled, at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Make the croutons: Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add bread and fry, tossing constantly, until pale gold and crisp, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain croutons on paper towel, and season with salt and pepper.

Divide chilled gazpacho among 6 bowls. Drizzle with oil, and top with croutons just before serving.

e-mail: agalarneau@buffnews.com