Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Garlic + Grapes + Almonds = YUM

Okay, kids, here´s the next installment in the Cold Soup for Hot Days category: Ajo Blanco.

I first tasted this stuff in Extremadura, at the dining room of the Parador Nacional de Merida -- a swank place indeed, a fine hotel built in a 18th century convent, smack in the middle of the greatest collection of Roman ruins in all of western Europe. (this was back in my travel writer days, when I was eating on someone else´s tab!) When you find food made with almonds that far south in Spain, it´s a safe bet the recipe came down from the Arabs, who occupied the area for a good 700 years or so and brought almonds with them from northern Africa.

When Ajo Blanco is good it´s very, very rich, thick with flavors of nuts and vinegar. When it´s bad it´s insipid. Much depends on the quality and freshness of your ingredients, of course, but this time of year it should not be too hard to get the good stuff.

Make sure you grind everything up very well, and stir it before serving. I think you´re gonna love this!

Ajo Blanco de Almendras y Piñones

1/3 cup blanched almonds
1/3 cup pine nuts (toasting the nuts slightly adds another layer of flavor!)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
4 slices good-quality white bread, de-crusted
6 tablespoons virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 cups of ice water
5 handfuls of seedless green grapes OR 5 little cubes of honeydew melon
Extra grapes and melon for garnish

Soak the bread in water, then squeeze out the water.
Put almonds, pine nuts, garlic and salt in food processor and grind fine. Add and puree grapes or melon. Add the bread bits and process one at a time, then drizzle in the oil, vinegars, and water. Strain into a bowl. Adjust the vinegar - salt balance. Chill well, and taste again before putting into individual bowls and serving with extra grapes and/or melon balls. 

Makes enough for 6 servings. I always double the recipe.

I think I adapted this recipe from one by Penelope Casas, a wonderful cook and writer who specializes in Spain. But I remember buttonholing the cook at the Parador, too, and he gave up a couple of super recipes... so this might be his. 
Let me know how this turns out for you. It´s a big favorite around here.


Laura said...

That's it - I am buying a food processor on the way home from work tonight! Can't wait to try these recipes.

katja said...

Oh, thank you! Yum!

laurie said...

I can't wait to try this recipe -- I made the Penelope Casas white gazpach years ago, but once was enough. I decided that spending several hours PEELING grapes was not the way I wanted to spend my free time. I don't see any peeling grapes step here, so I can't wait to try this recipe!
Thanks much, Laurie

Rebrites@yahoo.com said...

Laura, you don´t HAVE to use a food processor, I use a stick blender with a little bowl attachment, and just take my time.

And Laurie, one of the phrases we use when someone is asking too much is, "peel me a grape, Beulah." NO ONE should have to peel grapes! Penelope can be a bit fussy sometimes. I think she may have a Beulah in her kitchen...

ksam said...

From the slightly toasty Mid-Atlantic region, where today it's 101+ Gracias! Will be doing this soup this very evening!

MermaidLilli said...

I would think that there is a distinct difference in flavor between the grapes and honeydew melon. So... which one do you prefer?

Rebrites@yahoo.com said...

I am very allergic to honeydew melon, so I always use grapes.