Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ajo Blanco: the White Gazpacho of Málaga

Whenever I think of cold soups, I think of gazpacho, the “liquid salad” of Spain.  I have been making it and its cousin, white gazpacho forever and love them.

But I write about food and history so I had to ask, what was the history of gazpacho?  I know it is an ancient soup, but I discovered in this case, counter-intuitively, the much rarer white gazpacho came before the red.  No wonder, when you think about it.  Tomatoes and peppers are a gift of the new world.  They weren’t really available to the general population till long after Columbus visited the new world.  Before red, there was Ajo Blanco which first appeared in the Middle Ages when Spain was a part of the Islamic world. 

Food historian, Clifford Wright said in his great book, The Best Soups in the World:

“The emergence of the popularity of gazpacho out of Andalusia into the rest of Spain is said by Alicia Rios and Lourdes March, authors of Spanish cookbooks, to be the result of Eugenia de Montijo, the wife of the French Emperor Napoleon III in the nineteenth century. Gazpacho was unknown, or little known, in the north of Spain before about 1930. And it is not always liquid, nor does it always contain tomatoes. According to Juan de la Mata in his Arte de reposteria published in 1747, the most common gazpacho was known as capon de galera consisting of a pound of bread crust soaked in water and put in a sauce of anchovy bones, garlic, and vinegar, sugar, salt and olive oil and letting it soften. Then one adds "some of the ingredients and vegetables of the Royal Salad [a salad composed of various fruits and vegetables].”

Wright said that originally ajo blanco “contained garlic, almonds, bread, olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Ajo blanco is today associated with Málaga and made with fresh grapes.”

That’s the one I remember and the one I have made although not for a terribly long time, shame on me.
The recipes for it are all very similar –– then I found one from a restaurant in NYC called Dovetail that was particularly compelling.  In addition to the regular ingredients, it had sautéed leeks and cucumbers.  It also had a secret green oil in the gorgeous photograph of the soup (with no mention of what made it green in the recipe).

For some reason, I have been reading about borage lately. I found it used in a pasta filling last week and then it was mentioned as a forgotten ingredient in an article on Extremaduran  Cuisine that I read researching gazpacho history.  If you've never tried it, borage flowers and leaves have a delicate cucumber flavor and are wonderful.

It seemed the borage gods were calling my name so I decided to make my green oil with borage (but dill or chervil would work as well –– something like basil or parsley would be too strong for the dish). 
When I did a little research on the Dovetail Restaurant, I discovered that they had done a few versions of the soup.  One had asparagus and lavender in the mix.  This sounded delicious.  I thought I would add a hint of lavender to the sautéed nuts for a seductive addition to my beautiful soup.  What I discovered is that toasted lavender almonds is one of the best things on the planet.  I am going to make many more and serve them as an elegant snack!

 The recipe did not contain garlic, and that I thought was necessary to making a classic white gazpacho so I put that in.  The result is perfection.  If you can stop yourself from devouring your garnishes (grapes and those almonds are great together too...), you will be well rewarded with a beautiful light summer soup that is pretty simple to make and gorgeous with edible summer flowers.

White Gazpacho (inspired by Dovetail Restaurant)
Yield: 6 portions
¼ cup whites of leeks, sliced thin and washed

1-2 cloves garlic, mashed (optional)
3 slices white sandwich bread, crusts removed
 then crumbled and soaked in water
10 green grapes, washed

¼ cup blanched almond slivers

1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar

2 cups chopped cucumbers
 (if you want the soup to be creamy colored get rid of the peel - I kept it)
½ tablespoon cream or sour cream
¼ cup good quality olive oil

1 ½ cups cold water

salt to taste –– 2 or so tsp.
 a few green grapes sliced
Green oil
Lavender almonds
Borage flowers and/or nasturtiums (optional)
Herbs (borage flowers, chervil or dill)

Green Oil
¼ c oil (a bland oil is best, canola or safflower or grapseed)
2-5 borage leaves, depending on size (or ¼ c loosely packed chervil or dill)
pinch of salt

Lavender Almonds
¼ c sliced almonds
1 T oil
tiny drop of Aftelier’s Lavender chef Essence or a good pinch of  ground lavender
1 T of salt

Cook leeks and garlic in a medium-size sauté pan over low heat until translucent and tender (you don't want them to brown), then chill in refrigerator.

 Combine leeks, almonds and bread (squeeze the water out) and put in a blender.  Start the motor and blend.  Add the oil, vinegar, grapes, cream and cucumbers, blending between each addition and adding water as needed and purée until smooth (if you dump everything in at once the nuts will not grind properly). Add the water as needed till the soup is the thickness you would like.

Season with salt, adjusting amount as needed.

Pass through a fine-mesh sieve and scrape the sieve to extract as much as you can of the soup solids.

For herb oil, Process herbs and salt in oil and let sit for an hour then strain, pressing on the solids

For lavender almonds,  Sauté the almonds gently in the oil and add the lavender essence or ground lavender to the salt and toss with the almonds. OR combine the oil with the lavender essence or ground lavender. Toast the almonds using low flame till slightly browned, then toss in the oil with a pinch of salt. You will have some salt/oil left over... make more almonds!!

Ladle the soup into bowls or into 1 serving bowl and garnish with oil, grapes, almonds and herbs and serve cold.


pam said...

Fantastic food history lesson as always. I'm not a fan of cold soups, but those almonds are on my list!

Diane said...

Love the history of this soup and I will be making it very soon. I will use a little sorrel to make the green oil as I have no borage in the garden. The decoration on your soup is so good that I thought it was the pattern on the dish to start with. Fantastic. Have a great day Diane

angela@spinachtiger said...

That is an excellent rendition. I've made gazpacho (red) and had forgotten all about the bread. I love your version and the almonds are a beautiful garnish.

Lora said...

The most gorgeous gazpacho ever. Wow!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! I am very intrigued by the idea of the white gazpacho and thrilled to learn the history. Gorgeous garnishes!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Deana, I gasped when I scrolled down to the picture! It is absolutely beautiful! :o A work of art really and I love your floral version. I didn't realise that there was a white version of gazpacho too :)

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

HOLY COW....wait.....this has got to be one of the most creative recipes I have seen all summer yet. Spain is the land of my father. The RED STUFF is a staple here but AJO BLANCO????? Why did I never hear of this?

And then, the lavender sautée almonds? I need to go over to Penzey's Spices this weekend in St. Paul and get me some culinary lavender my dear...those little nuggets alone would be a wonder in MY SALAD or alone for guests! The photo of the do you do it all? You are a poet of food. That's all there is to it!!!

Thank you again my friend, for taking the time to come visit me. I wish you a WONDERFUL and most delicious FOURTH OF JULY!! Anita

Oh dear, I am going to be thinking about those almonds alone all day!! Anita

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

OMG! Let's put aside the fact that I love "white gazpacho" - your garnishes are stunning. It's a little work of art - summer in a bowl!

La Table De Nana said...

that is the prettiest soup! I am growing nasturtiums..calendulas.pansies my herbs more edible flowers..I never even thought of the beautiful blue borage blooms..I love your soup:)

Joan Nova said...

As they say in Andalucia ... Olé! That is a gorgeous presentation and a great recipe!

I've never made a white gazpacho, but now I can't wait to! said...

I am new to your blog and cannot wait to see more of it.

I love Ajo Blanco and have made it many times. What a lovely presentation...OLE Maja!

Faith said...

I love the delicate balance of flavors that you've achieved in this soup. And wow, is it stunning! I've been hearing a lot about borage and I've wanted to try to get my hands on some! :)

Unknown said...

Very interesting history! I've never had white gazpacho but yours looks and sounds stunning. The flowers are a lovely touch.

Cindy said...

So beautiful! I like the flavor combinations!

Barbara said...

What a brilliant presentation, Deana. One of the prettiest I've ever seen. Must have been a pleasure to photograph.

Not only that, but I've never been fond of "the normal" red I think I'd love a White Gazpacho.
Loved reading about borage florwers; the oils are something I take every night at bedtime...a borage oil capsule recommended by my nutritionist. Must be something healthy there. :)

Hope you have some fun plans for next week. Tracy is coming down for 5 days, so imagine everyone is taking most of the week off.

Anonymous said...

Lovely blog but the words are so tiny and on black I can hardly read it. Soup looks amazing though!

mandy said...

This is simply amazing Deana! I am proud to have my Lavender included in your splendid gazpacho garnish, and it looks simply fabulous, thanks so much!
xo Mandy

Deana Sidney said...

To anonymous: A computer has a view function on the browser at the top of your screen. Just click zoom in (+) and the print and pictures are bigger... as big as you want them to be. Also, you can click the individual pictures and see them bigger if you would like.

Debs @ The Spanish Wok said...

This is one beautiful soup.

You are welcome to join in my monthly food blogger event THE SOUP KITCHEN, here for entry details and current theme offering a new theme each month. All bloggers are welcome, hope to see you participate soon. July's theme is summer soups.

Victoria said...

Wow! White gazpacho is new to me, thanks for the info! I will be adding this to my cooking wish list :)

Ken Albala said...

THIS is STUNNINGly beautiful. I want to make it right now! So I've never looked for or noticed the word gazpacho itself. There are cold almond soups I think. But now I need to look at those 16th and 17th c. Spanish cookbooks. There must be versions like this one. Ken

El said...

You really should compile all of your hard work into a book. It's amazing. White gazpacho? Who knew? Amazing.

Lori Lynn said...

Hi Deana - this soup is perfection! Love the lavender almonds. And thank you so much for the idea to make oil from borage leaves, I have a ton!
I became infatuated with borage after seeing a photo in Grant Achatz's ebook on Paris 1906 of Turtle Soup with borage. It's a long story but I finally planted seeds and grew it myself.
Congrats on a super-stunning contribution to the Makeover group!
P.S. I am not surprised that you have a copy of Monet's Table! :)

Lazaro Cooks said...

Hands down the best soup of the round up. Flavor, execution, and presentation.

Michelin quality.

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

Always such a pleasure to read, I learn so much. and the soup is superb. I am curious to try it.

Marjie said...

It's so pretty with the flowers! I'd just want to admire it, without eating it!

Sarah said...

Such interesting flavours. I have never seen a white gazpacho. Hopefully those plants coming in my garden are borage. I love those flowers. Lavender almonds...mmmm. I must try that. So many interesting flavour combinations.

Magic of Spice said...

Wonderful read on the history of gazpacho! I guess it would make sense given the available ingredients of the time. I have never tried a white gazpacho, but this soup is just heavenly...and gorgeous! Wow!

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What a feast for the eyes and taste buds, Deana! I so enjoyed ready about the history of white gazpacho and the recipe is going into my recipe file!

I hate to admit Borage is an herb I've never tasted.

Tanantha said...

oh wow I just learned a history of gazpacho. Sweet. The elemants of your soup are very fascinating. The soup itself, green oil, and lavender almonds sing beautifully together.

Sweta (My Indian Dietitian) said...

Wow-that soup is a treat for the eyes as much as I'm sure it is for the taste buds!!

Anonymous said...

nice posting.. thanks for sharing.

Tasty Trix said...

Better late than never, right? I agree with Lazaro this is hands down the best soup of the round up. Can you believe I have never had ajo blanco?? It actually looks more appealing to me than tomato based gazpacho.

Trannasolv said...

Came across your blog by mistake… have dedicated several hours now to reading your rich posts (whoops—better get back to work.)

I could cry from temptation. Cry.

afracooking said...

This dish is just the most amazing work of art! I NEVER look at soup recipes (just not my thing) but this one I had to look at and enjoy a little longer!

Anonymous said...

This is many years later, but I have been seeing posts for Ajo Blano, and nothi g compared to your recipe, and of course this history lesson. And no one’s soup loooked even remotely as pretty! Cathy