Cooking with SF Cooking School: White Gazpacho
Gazpacho is the ubiquitous soup of summer. Too many overripe tomatoes? Make gazpacho. Need lunch for days, but want to make it on Sunday? Make gazpacho. Too hot to cook? Make gazpacho.
I’m a fan, don’t get me wrong, but a few years back I was turned on to white gazpacho, a dish with its humble origins in Spain like its red cousin, but it’s an entirely different ball game.
Richer, more luxurious, and frankly just a bit more special, white gazpacho (or “ajo blanco”) is a perfect soup to kick off a meal. It’s at its best midsummer when produce is tastiest but most of the ingredients can be found year round, making it a soup you can rely on a lot more often than tomato-based gazpacho.
It’s base is blanched almonds, white bread and cucumbers. My version, and many others, also in-corporates green grapes for a bit of sweetness as well as acidity. The almonds and bread add a lovely texture but if you want to keep things gluten free you can do without the bread.
Like most gazpachos, this one tastes best when the flavors have had some time to marry. I try to make it a day before I want to serve it but, I’ll be honest, I’ve also done it a few hours before dinner and it’s still mighty good.
For each serving, combine 1 slice of rustic white bread without the crust (about ½ inch thick); 1 ounce of rough-chopped blanched almonds; 5–6 green grapes; ¼ cup peeled, seeded and chopped cucumber; and ½ teaspoon minced garlic in a blender or food processor with ⅔ cup water and a tablespoon of good extra-virgin olive oil. Purée the ingredients until very smooth; it may take up to 5 minutes to achieve a smooth and aerated texture. If desired, strain the soup or just transfer it to a bowl and refrigerate. Want to cheat? Place the bowl over another bowl of ice water and stir the soup constantly to cool it quickly.
The soup will need lots of seasoning. In fact, I have used this soup in class as a way to teach students about acid and salt. Before adding either the soup will be pretty bland but it is important to taste it first. Then, add a pinch of kosher salt and taste it again. Ask yourself if you can taste each ingredient. You’re not looking for soup that tastes salty; rather, you’re looking for soup that tastes like almonds, cucumber, grapes and a little hint of garlic. Add more salt if you’re not there yet. The richness of the almonds and bread cry out for some acid so if the grapes haven’t brought enough to the party, sherry vinegar is your friend. Add just a few drops at a time, again tasting along the way, until you finally balance things out. White pepper provides a little kick or you can add a pinch of cayenne. Remember, “little kick” is key—you aren’t going for spicy here.
Serve the soup cold, in chilled bowls, and garnish with something crunchy: toasted sliced almonds, small homemade croutons, chiffonade of a light herb (such as basil or mint) and a drizzle more of great olive oil. It’s a lesson in balancing flavors that pays you back with every single bite you take.
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Cooking with SF Cooking School: White Gazpacho was originally published in the Summer issue © 2017 Edible San Francisco.