Teresa Parker blogs about restaurants, recipes, and the reasons why she's in love with Spain's food and culture.
"Well, peel you a grape." That's what my mother always said to let us know we were asking for too much. Then I went to Spain, where I met Joaquín, a guy whose mother actually willingly peeled grapes for us and fed them to us for lunch. She floated them, ice-cold, in this garlic and almond soup. What could I do? I married the guy immediately. That may have been a mistake, but this cold soup is one nutty, fruity, perfect marriage.
Ajoblanco would translate as something like "white garlic," and this being one of the traditional cold soups of Andalucía, it does include raw garlic. Its piquancy is tamed by the green flavors of extra virgin olive oil and grapes (or cubes of honeydew melon)—the overall effect is soothingly cool. The almonds add lots of body, so small first course servings are in order. Ajoblanco in shot glasses makes a nice liquid tapa for a busy stand-up gathering.
I think this soup is best eaten the day it's made, but you can make it a day ahead and refrigerate it. Whisk it up good before serving in that case as the almonds separate when the soup sits. Either way, garnish it at the last minute.
Serves 6 or more (makes about 4 cups, enough for 6-8 small bowls or 12-18 shots)
1/2 lb almonds (about 1 and 1/2 cups), blanched and skinned
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 oz. day-or-two-old white bread (about three one inch slices of a fat rustic batard), crust trimmed off
3 cups cold water (or use less and add a few ice cubes to speed cooling)
1/2 cup olive oil (1/4 cup for the soup + about another 1/4 cup for drizzling on top)
3 Tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt
Green grapes or honeydew melon for garnish, you'll want about 1/4 cup chilled grapes or cubed melon per bowl
Trim the crusts from the bread and soak it in the cold water for about a half hour. If you don't have blanched almonds you'll find it takes about that long to bring a pot of water to the boil, drop the almonds in for a minute, drain and cool them and pop them out of their skins. If you have blanched almonds, busy yourself peeling the garlic, and, if you're feeling generous, peel the grapes for the garnish, too (or not, or cube some honeydew melon). Set the prepped fruit for the garnish in the fridge to chill while you finish the soup.
Lift the soaked bread from the water and plop it into the blender. Add the almonds, garlic, and the rest of the water, and blend thoroughly. Add the sherry vinegar, olive oil, and salt and blend again. Taste for seasoning—if you start with just a teaspoon of kosher salt you may want a pinch or two more. Chill the soup well—a few hours—you want it really cold. It needs at least an hour even if you've stirred in ice cubes in place of some of the water. Garnish with grapes or melon cubes and drizzle a little olive oil on each serving.