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.