By Heidi Allison
While you might be familiar with the chilled, red, Spanish soup, Gazpacho, the original version contained no tomatoes at all—it was a white, creamy, chilled garlic and almond soup, served with a variety of garnishes. Sopa de Ajo Blanco, which also goes by the moniker, White Gazpacho, is rumored to be of Moorish origin, and this rich, chilled Andalusian soup is composed of almonds, stale bread, fresh garlic, water and Spanish olive oil.
A regional favorite in Malaga and Granada, festivals are carried out in August and September to honor this iconic dish. The advantage of serving this rendition of Gazpacho is it can be served year-round, when ripe, home-grown summer tomatoes are unavailable, or, for those who shun tomatoes.
Traditionally, this Spanish soup was simple country fare, but it transforms to a sophisticated dish with an edgy Cali twist with a few culinary tweaks — perfect as a starter or main, when served with a variety of garnishes. In this rendition, bold, sweet Spanish sherry is switched out for a more subtle California Sauternes wine mixed with a touch of fresh lemon juice, to achieve the sweet, tart and somewhat acidic flavor profile that is the perfect counterpoint to the rich almond bisque. Served with a variety of garnishes, it makes a lovely starter course on a hot day. Mixing-and-matching garnishes is part of the allure (and, interactive fun) of this dish, but as a general guide, the salty, crunchy fried capers pair well with a drizzle of good-quality, California, white-oak aged reserve Sherry vinegar and drops of buttery-flavored estate California olive oil on top right before serving, while the sweet champagne grapes work best with a sprinkle of minced, fresh chives and toasted almond slivers.
Serves: 4 as a starter
1 ½ cups slivered blanched almonds
1 3/4 cups water
5 slices (1-inch thick) day-old country bread, crust removed and cut into 1-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
3 fresh garlic cloves
( no soft, or, sprouting cloves )
1 1/2 tsp. kosher flake salt
1 cup organic green grapes
2/3 cup organic California estate olive oil, first press
2Tbs. Sauternes wine mixed with 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
(about 2 large, ripe lemon
, or, 4 small)
1 bunch chives
1 bunch Champagne grapes
1 bunch of fried capers
1/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds
Smoked sea salt
California estate olive oil
White-oak aged, reserve Napa Valley Sherry Vinegar (I like Napa Valley Naturals)
Soak almonds in 1 3/4 cups of water for 4 hours. Drain and keep soaking water.
Place the 1-inch bread cubes in a large bowl and cover with almond soaking water. Let sit for at least 10 minutes, then place into a food processor. Add almonds, grapes and garlic, then purée until smooth.
Place soup purée into a large bowl and whisk in wine, lemon juice, salt and oil. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours, best overnight. Strain soup over a mesh strainer into serving bowl, using a spoon to push soup through the mesh, then top with garnishes, and serve.