You might ask why, when tomatoes are at their absolute peak in the Northeast, we made almond gazpacho which can be made year-round. It is a legitimate question. I think we just finally wanted to try this version, and serving it when Maya was about to move away seemed like a fitting way of completing one particular circle in our lives. . You might also ask whether this is really a gazpacho. Remember that tomatoes only came to the Mediterranean after Columbus, and it took a while to get incorporated into people's cooking. This soup, which the Spanish call ajo blanco, or white garlic, if probably older than the tomato gazpacho we are all familiar with. It is probably based on an earlier, far less elegant soup which was basically stale bread soaked in olive oil and water and seasoned with vinegar and garlic. (Sounds really appetizing, doesn't it?) Also, this version is REALLY good in hot weather, and this summer has been nothing if not hot. You might also ask, is it easy? What's easy? To me this is an easy recipe because you can (and must) make it in advance, because cooking is a meditative act, and because you can listen to music or the radio while you are doing it. So what if you have to make croutons and peel 40-60 grapes? Anyway, here it is:
White almond gazpacho
- 6-8 ounces day old peasant-style white bread, crusts removed (I used half of a ciabatta-- the important thing is that the bread is white and not sweet; this is the equivalent of about 6-8 largish slices)
- 2-4 cloves garlic
- 8 ounces blanched almonds (slivers puree the most easily)
- 1 tablespoon kosher or coarse salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 4-6 tablepoons sherry vinegar (start with the lower amount and stir in more after you taste, since sherry vinegar can be more acidic)
- 2 quarts cold water
- homemade croutons (recipe below)
- 40-60 peeled seedless grapes, more if you want, depending on your patience (you can use red or green grapes, since there isn't much difference once you peel them)
- The day before you make the soup, trim the crusts off the bread, leaving as much of the white part as you can. Leave the bread overnight, ideally in a paper bag or wrapped loosely in a napkin or paper towel. (A plastic bag won't do the trick here. I used half of a large ciabatta, and had the rest left for croutons.)
- The next day, with the motor running, drop the peeled garlic cloves into a food processor through the feeder tube. It should atomize them nicely. (You can also use a blender, but given the quantity of soup, I think that a processor works better here.)
- Add the almonds and salt and grind.
- Soak the bread in cold water very briefly, squeeze it out, and then add to the processor and puree. (I am not sure why recipes tell you to use stale bread and then soak it, but it always seems to work.)
- Drizzle in the oil through the feeder tube, with the motor running.
- Add 4 tablespoons of the vinegar.
- Depending on the size and shape of the machine that you are using, and the exact quantity of ingredient, it may or may not be a puree at this point. Don't worry. All things in time.
- With the motor still running add 2 cups of the water slowly through the feeder tube keep adding water until the mixture purees nicely, and let it run until smooth.
- Remove from the processor to a large bowl and slowly stir in the rest of the water. Taste for salt and vinegar. Add more vinegar if you want, and you will probably want to.
- Pour the soup through a strainer into a serving bowl, pressing out the solids left in the strainer, and also scraping the outside of the strainer to get all the puree. It will be the texture of a tahini sauce or a cream soup.
- Chill several hours or overnight. The soup should be very cold.
- Peel the grapes. I thought that freezing them and then running boiling water over them would make them easier to peel, but it didn't seem to help. It just requires patience and doesn't take that long. Get a friend to help or listen to some music.
- To serve, put a few croutons and some grapes in a bowl and ladle the soup over it. This recipe serves 10-12 and can be halved easily.
Homemade croutons: This is more of a method than a recipe. Slice up some non-sweet bread about 1/2 inch thick. I used the same ciabatta that I used for the soup. There is no need to remove the crusts here, but I find that most presliced bread is too thin for good croutons. Let the bread dry overnight in a paper bag or napkin. Don't use a plastic bag, which just seems toughen the bread. The next day, smash a few cloves of garlic and rub over both side of each slice of bread. Cut into cubes. Line a baking sheet with foil, spray with olive oil spray, and then add the croutons and spray them well. (You could just toss the croutons in olive oil but I find the spray works very well and coats them more evenly. Besides, you have to save calories somewhere.) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10 to 20 minutes until brown, turning if you have the patience about half way through. The time is approximate, and depends on how densely packed the pan is and the oven you are using. I find that this works well in a toaster oven, but you have to watch it very carefully since the croutons are so close to the heating element, so you may want to lower the heat to 300. Use the croutons in soups or salads, you will find that they bear little resemblance to the ones you buy in boxes or bags (though I sometimes like these too, especially when they get soggy in Ceasar salad.) You can follow the same method with slices of baguette, which forms the basis of either crostini or makes a great addition to soups, especially a minestrone made without pasta. You can make these croutons with any non-sweet bread, though for the white gazpacho, a white loaf is preferred.