Sunday, August 12, 2007
Green Gazpacho with Lettuce, Cucumber, & Almonds
The first Andalusían gazpacho probably originated in the fields of southern Spain as sustenance for agricultural workers. Though in this country we tend to think of gazpacho as a chilled, tomato-based sort of liquid salad, it was originally comprised of nothing more than bread, water, olive oil, and garlic. All the ingredients were pounded and emulsified in a large wooden dornillo bowl. This was simple peasant food for the scorching summer months.
Ajo Blanco (in which ground almonds, vinegar, and salt are added to the 4 fundamental ingredients) was probably the next step – suddenly possible when the Moors brought almonds to the region in the early Middle Ages. Today this particular version is still popular, though grapes were added somewhere along the way in a typically sweet-and-sour Moorish flourish), and the recipe is associated with the south-central region of Málaga.
By the time gazpacho became well-known to the rest of Spain and the world at large, which was not until the first half of the 20th century, believe it or not, versions of the soup had become as numerous as the villages of Andalusía themselves. Tomatoes, bell peppers, beans, and green vegetables or herbs all form the bases of popular preparations.
I like blending the milky sweetness of ground almonds with the gentle flavors of lettuce and cucumber. Sherry and white wine vinegar meld with the parsley and garlic to make this soup as satisfying as it is refreshing. When it’s humid and hot - and there were tornadoes in Brooklyn on Wednesday, folks - we sip our gazpacho from glasses and pour a cool draught of fino if the mood strikes. It’s a ritual that makes a wonderful start to supper or, with some good bread and a juicy peach, a meal in itself.
Though some Andalusían cooks hold that a true gazpacho must be chopped by hand or ground in a mortar and pestle for the flavors to properly meld, others choose the convenience and speed of a food processor. Regardless, a jar of gazpacho in the fridge has become synonymous with Spanish summer itself, and it’s a custom that I, for one, am grateful to adopt come these dog days of August.
Serves 4 – 6
3 slices (about 4 oz.) bread
5 cloves garlic
4 scallions, trimmed and cut into 3 or 4 lengths
2 medium cucumbers, ends trimmed and cut into chunks
1 crisp green lettuce, leaves rinsed and patted dry
1 large bunch parsley, chopped into lengths
¾ cup ground blanched almonds
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup almond milk (or water)
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
Soak the bread in cold water, squeeze out the liquid, tear into chunks, and set aside.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the garlic and scallions until minced, scraping down the sides as necessary. Add the cucumbers, lettuce, and parsley and pulse again until all are minced and incorporated. Add the ground almonds and process until the mixture is smooth. Leave the processor on while you add the bread chunks one at a time. Once the bread's incorporated, slowly stream in the olive oil.
Pour the mixture in a large bowl, stir in the almond milk and the vinegars. Season to taste with salt, and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Stir well all the way to the bottom, check the seasoning with more sherry vinegar and salt if necessary, and serve cold in glasses for sipping.