The first time I ever heard about ajo blanco, or white gazpacho, was on a family vacation to southern Spain. We were having lunch at the lovely parador San Francisco on the grounds of the famous Alhambra in Granada. When I saw the menu description of creamy garlic and almond soup with grapes, I had to try it and I have been glad I did ever since. I only knew about classic gazpacho – the cold tomato and vegetable soup – and at the time I was not much of a fan, as I think I had only had a version using V-8 juice and celery salt (don’t worry, I have since learned my lesson). I was intrigued by a creamy, non-tomato version and it was delicious.
As I so often do, I asked the hostess in the dining room how the ajo blanco was made. She laughed and told me she had absolutely no idea how it was made in the restaurant, but outlined her recipe for making it at home. I took notes and brought them home with me. I tinkered, but never quite got the recipe right. Over the years, I read other recipes for the soup, all basically what she had explained, and finally managed to hit the mark. I think I had forgotten to write down the sherry vinegar.
Traditionally, and in the first serving I had in Spain, this soup is served with whole or halved chilled green grapes. The sweet grapes cut the tanginess of the garlic and add an interesting and unusual note. But I have to say, it’s not my favorite way to eat it. I have had it with finely diced cucumber piled in the middle of the bowl, which is very refreshing, but this Spanish-style picada of almonds, parsley and lemon zest is my preferred addition.
Like all cold soups, this is a perfect hot weather lunch, but is great as a starter for a dinner party since it can be prepared ahead. You can even pour it into the bowls and leave them in the fridge until ready to be sprinkled with picada and served. If you are of a mind to, this is the perfect soup to pass around as shooters at a cocktail party.
White Gazpacho with Parsley Picada
For the Gazpacho:
1 ½ cups firm white bread cubes (no crusts), day old or left to dry on the counter for several hours
6 ounces slivered almonds
2 large garlic cloves
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 ¾ cups chilled water
1 Tablespoon sherry vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the Picada:
3 Tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
3 Tablespoons slivered almonds
1 Tablespoon grated lemon zest
Place the bread cubes in a bowl and cover with cold water, about 2 ½ cups. Leave to soak for 5 – 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the almonds and garlic cloves in a blender and grind to a fine paste. Drizzle in a little of the chilled water to keep things going if needed. Drain the bread cubes and squeeze out any excess water with your hands (discard the soaking water). Crumble the soaked bread in the blender, add the chilled water, salt and sherry vinegar and blend until smooth and creamy. Really let that blender work. When it is nice and smooth, drizzle the olive oil in while the motor is running, until nice and thick and creamy. Stop and start the blender if needed to get all the oil down in the vortex.
Pour the gazpacho into a bowl, cover and refrigerate until completely chilled or overnight. Taste and whisk in salt as needed. You can whisk in a little more chilled water if you like.
For the Picada:
Place the parsley, almonds and lemon zest in a small food processor and pulse until finely chopped. You can also do this by hand with a heavy knife.
When ready to serve, ladle the Ajo Blanco into individual bowls and sprinkle a little picada in the center of each bowl. You may choose not to use all of the picada, but any extra can be brought to the table.