Fare en Blanc for a Bridal Shower Soirée, Swor-ahh

ContextTwo summers ago, this lovely lady reminded about the cold alabaster soup the Andalusians call "ajo blanco" (white garlic), and I immediately took her cue and whipped together my own creamy version of "white gazpacho." When I visited Spain's coastal towns ajo blanco was a godsend since it's one of southern Spain's few staples without the revered jamón -- nor chicken stock, or, well, anything that would make it prohibitive for a vegetarian.

Though I only made the tangy almond and garlic chilled soup that one time (there so many dishes to try!), it left such a fantastic taste impression on my mum that when we discussed the menu for my sister's SURPRISE bridal shower, my mother said, "Oh! That soup! That delicious white soup that you made that one time...." 

And so it was....one aspect of the surprise Bridal Soirée's menu was decided -- and I began soaking an entire 3 pounds of almonds in mason jars in prep for blending and gazpacho-making. 

The white gazpacho I ate spiked with salty sea breezes in the shadow of ancient stucco buildings was more rustic than this version -- the cafes in Spain served something less finely blended and not exactly pure white (I'm guessing due to bread crusts, as it had that look about it). But I completely recommend this fussier update  -- you'll end up with a beautiful white, rich and loamy gazpacho, laced with lemon and hints of garlic.   

The Stats:

Started soaking the almonds on Wednesday for the Saturday shower-- I was sans the ultra-fancy blender with serious brawn I used two summers ago, and wanted the almonds nice and soft... not sure if the extra soaking time helped.

Started blending almonds at approximately noon on Saturday

Finished blending soup & set it to chill in the refrigerator at approximately, oh, I don't know, 2:30pm? (Though many other things were happening...)

Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5 stars on the Best-Things-You've-Put-to-Your-Lips scale

Improvements:  Use a Blendtec or other industrial-strength blender to get this soup to a yogurt-like smooth consistency OR use a strainer -- we didn't have time or patience for a strainer in the frenzy of our preparations -- and while we managed to nearly obliterate all the almond granules and get this pretty-darn-close to sediment-free smooth, it wasn't *silk* -- and I'm a Perfectionist with a definite capital P in my culinary/entertaining endeavors.

Bridal White Andalusian Gazpacho (Ajo Blanco)

This elegant gazpacho is made entirely from ingredients the Spanish consistently  (enviably!!) have in abundance: almonds, crusts of bread, olive oil, lemon juice & garlic -- creating a melange where the individual components work better together than you can possibly imagine.

The recipe I pseudo-followed is here  - but this is a concoction born to be improvised. Remember! Andalusians are just using up what they had on hand!

Per Spanish tradition, I studded the soup with halved green grapes, which might sound weird, but *trust* --  it cuts through all that garlicky creaminess (too much really can dull the palate) -- the burst of sweet-tartness from the grapes is refreshing and reawakens your tongue, since in the midst of the spoonfuls of ecstasy, there's a high chance it will forget it ought to be in heaven. 

For the shower, in theory, I was going to make 1.5 times this recipe from Tartine to serve about 30-35 people (in charming little clear shot glasses). But since the original recipe calls for 2 lb.s of raw almonds, and I only used 2 lb.s of the 3 lb.s of almonds I soaked, I clearly strayed from the recipe... but it was still divine. 

Soup

2 lbs raw almonds softened (soaked or blanched) & sans skins** (2 mason jars full!)

approx 10 inches of a Pugliese loaf (sliced into 1/2 inches & dried out in the oven)

1 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup Champagne vinegar

2 - 2.5 cups flavorful golden-green olive oil

4 cloves of garlic

10-12 cups of water

approx 3/4 tsp salt (to taste) 

1.5 cups green grapes halved/quartered (depending on their size)  -- you'll stir these into the blended gazpacho, right before you put into the fridge to chill  

Garnish

35 grapes halved

Salsa-Like Garnish

1 cucumber diced

1/2 cup grape tomatoes diced

1 T Champagne vinegar

1 T olive oil

1/4 tsp salt

few dashes of black pepper

1. As I said before, I knew blending the almonds into the consistency of a whipped cloud with my Kitchenaid blender might give me some trouble, so I set to soaking them 3 days ahead of time in hope that this might help. I'm not sure it did. Well, I'm sure it helped some, but certainly isn't necessary. Soak overnight or boil for a few minutes and your almonds should be just prime soft-enough for blending.

**2. If you soak your almonds overnight, and they have skins, you'll still want to blanch them in boiling water for a minute so that you can easily peel the skins off (which won't take much time at all), otherwise, the peeling part will be a *chore.*

3. Blend almonds and garlic together until as smooth and pasty as possible -- you can break this up into batches, whatever capacity you think your blender can manage -- we did three or four batches

4. Given whatever size batch you are working with, add the appropriate portion bread and cold water to your almond mixture and blend till smooth.  

5. Add the batch's portion of olive oil -- blend till smooth. (Basically, just loads of adding and blending!) 

6. Add the batch's portion of vinegar --  blend till smooth.

7. When all of your almonds, bread, water, olive oil & vinegar have been thoroughly blended and set aside in a large bowl, stir in the lemon juice and salt into the whole lot, and taste to make any desired flavor/salt adjustments (you may want more lemon for a brighter flavour, or more vinegar or salt for more savory tang).

8. Stir in your halved grapes and chill for a few hours -- at least 3.

9. Make your garnish by mixing the diced cucumbers, tomatoes, vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper together. Then halve your grapes if you haven't already.

10. When ready to serve, put the gazpacho into cups, bowls or shot glasses (as you will) and top with salsa garnish & a half a grape. Voilà! So white and pretty with that pop of color.

11. Be ready to answer the question "What is this wonderful stuff?"