Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Cold Summer Soups.
Summer in Spain is really hot and dry. During my recent trip to Extremadura, I tasted a number of cold summer soups and decided that they were interesting enough to share with our readers.
Of course, we all know about Gazpacho Andaluz, a cold soup made from diced ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, green and red bell peppers, green onions, garlic, olive oil and vinegar.
There are other cold regional soups as well that are seasonal and very popular. Two of them, Ajo Blanco and Cherry Gazpacho are not as well known as the tomato-based gazpacho outside the Iberian Peninsula, but are equally delicious.
Below you will find recipes for those soups. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I did. In the past, both recipes used to be made with a mortar and pestle but nowadays almost all kitchens have either a food processor or a blender or both. These two implements cut the soup prep time more than half, compared to the traditional method.
Extremadura is the second largest cherry producer in Europe and end of May, when my visit took place, is cherry season. As we traveled throughout the region we saw numerous cherry orchards laden with ripe bright-red fruit. An ice-cold combination of fresh pitted cherries and shredded mint (or basil) makes for an exceptional light lunch.
Two 1 1/3 inch thick slices of white bread
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 garlic cloves, 1 thinly sliced, 2 crushed
1 red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 dried and smoked pimento secco, crumbled (I use Las Hermanas Agridulce brand)
1 gherkin or other seedless cucumber, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 pound bing cherries, pitted
1 1/2 ounces sherry vinegar
1 thyme sprig
6 basil or 8 mint leaves, torn
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Drizzle 1 bread slice with olive oil on both sides. In a medium skillet, fry the bread over moderate heat, turning once or twice, until golden, about 4 minutes. Rub the bread on one side with a garlic clove. Cut the bread into 1-inch cubes and transfer to a bowl. Add the sliced garlic clove and whatever is left of the rubbing clove, red bell pepper, the dried and smoked pimento secco, gherkin, half of the mint or basil leaves, pitted cherries, vinegar and 1/4 cup of the olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper and let stand at room temperature for 2 hours.
Puree the cherry and other ingredients mixture in a blender or food processor until smooth. If needed, strain the gazpacho through a fine sieve -- if too thick add some water or if you have access to black cherry syrup (vishna), dilute ¼ cup of the syrup with 1 cup water and use enough to dilute the soup. Adjust salt and pepper seasoning.
Remove the crust from the remaining bread slice. Cut the bread into 1/2-inch cubes and toss with the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the bread cubes to the skillet along with the thyme and the remaining crushed garlic clove and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until the croutons are browned and crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer the croutons to paper towels to drain. Discard the garlic and thyme and season the croutons with salt.
Ladle the gazpacho into bowls. Garnish with diced cherries, croutons and balance of mint or basil. Or, as it was presented in our meal, float a pike quennele. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.
The recipe is based on a cold cherry soup I had at Atrio Restaurant Hotel, a 2 Michelin star establishment located in an old palace in Cáceres city. www.restauranteatrio.com
Ajo Blanco is another gazpacho-style cold soup but, as the name denotes it is white not red. Here the frugality of a Spanish housewife comes to the forefront. Before commercial bakeries, all bread was made at home, in wood-burning ovens. Enough dough was made to make bread for the entire week; unfortunately by the end of the week the bread would be really stale and practically tasteless. A frugal housewife would take the old bread, moisten it with water and use it as a base for Ajo Blanco. Add a couple handfuls of blanched almonds, a few cloves of garlic, some light cream or, in one of the variations, some chicken stock instead of water, olive oil and sherry vinegar, salt and pepper and you have a tasty and filling soup. You garnish the top with slivered toasted almonds, slivers of Iberico ham or thin slices of scallion, or halved seedless green grapes or slivered Granny Smith apples, but even without embellishments the soup is delectable.
Please note that it is best to blanch and sliver the almonds yourself by boiling the almonds for 10 minutes, cooling, slipping the brown almond skin off and keeping the blanched almonds in water until ready to prep the soup. Do not to use pre blanched and/or slivered almonds.
3 large garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
3 cups crustless cubes of old white country bread
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
½ cup whole milk or cream
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil plus more to drizzle*
2 tablespoon sherry vinegar plus more to drizzle
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup slivered almonds
* Editor’s Note: When I made the Ajo Blanco at home I used a couple different olive oils when sampling the recipe. The best tasting result was using the Zucchi Sweet & Fruity Extra Virgin Olive Oil, an EVOO blend from the Mediterranean basin.
Toast blanched and slivered almonds in a small pan until they lightly color. Hold the slivered almonds for garnish.
Combine garlic, bread, whole almonds, milk, and 2 cups water or chicken stock in a medium bowl; season with salt. Cover and chill for 2 hours.
Transfer soup base to a blender and purée, adding water or stock by tablespoonfuls if too thick, until smooth. With motor running, gradually add ¾ cup oil and 2 tbsp. vinegar and blend until soup is emulsified. Season with salt, pepper, and more vinegar, if desired. Strain soup through a fine-mesh sieve into a large bowl; cover and chill until very cold, about 2 hours.
Divide soup among large Martini glasses or bowls. You can just drizzle fresh extra virgin olive oil or top with toasted almonds as garnish or just drizzle oil and vinegar.
The Ajo Blanco recipe is based on the recipe prepared from Espezia Esquela de Cocina of Mérida (www.espezia.es), with chicken stock modification suggested by the kitchen of El Celler de Can Roca.
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