White gazpacho

This lovely light soup, white gazpacho or ajo blanco, highlighted in the July/August issue of Cooks Illustrated, caught my eye. Since we had all the ingredients on hand, I was able to prepare it this week and enjoy it for dinner the next night (slightly obvious warning: as gazpacho is served cold, it will need at least 3 hours to chill!).

I stayed pretty true to the recipe as printed (which I think is the best course with Cooks Illustrated recipes) but ran out of good olive oil and had to supplement with some generic grocery-store brand. I didn't drizzle with extra olive oil at the end - a nice fruity olive oil drizzle would have been lovely. Oh, and I didn't have sherry vinegar so I subbed some white wine vinegar. I'm sure my 'don't-want-to-drive-to-the-store' modifications did not improve the recipe but it was still delicious as it was. Surprisingly creamy. Mr Leaven insisted there was cheese in the soup somewhere, and I get it - the almond milk extracted from the ground almonds plus the olive oil really give it a cheesy, unctuous texture. I like the technique for adding just a drop or 2 of almond extract. I love almond extract, but even a hint too much and the soup would taste like almond extract soup.

It's quite filling. The 2 of us had very large portions, probably ~12 ounces each, as our main course, and neither of us came close to finishing our soup.

White Gazpacho
from Cooks Illustrated, July-August 2014
Serves 6 to 8 (6 ounces per serving)

6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed
4 cups water
2 1/2 cups plus 1/3 cup sliced blanched almonds
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 Tbsp sherry vinegar
Kosher salt and pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1/8 tsp almond extract
2 tsp vegetable oil
6 oz seedless green grapes, sliced thin (1 cup)

Combine bread and water in a bowl and let soak for 5 minutes. Process 2 1/2 cups almonds in food processor until finely ground, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of food processor as needed.

Using your hands, remove bread from water, squeeze it lightly, and transfer to blender with almonds. Measure 3 cups soaking water and set aside; transfer remaining soaking water to food processor.

Add garlic, vinegar, 1 1/4 tsp salt, and cayenne to food processor and process until mixture has consistency of cake batter, 30 to 45 seconds. With blender running, add olive oil in thin, steady stream, about 30 seconds. Add reserved soaking water and process for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Strain soup through fine-mesh strainer set in bowl, pressing on solids to extract liquid. Discard solids.

Measure 1 Tbsp of soup into second bowl and stir in almond extract. Return 1 tsp of extract mixture to soup; discard remainder. Chill for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.

Heat vegetable oil in 8-inch skillet over medium-high heat until oil begins to shimmer. Add remaining 1/3 cup almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Immediately transfer to bowl and stir in 1/4 tsp salt.

Ladle soup into shallow bowls. Mound an equal amount of grapes in center of each bowl. Sprinkle cooled almonds over soup and drizzle with extra olive oil. Serve immediately.


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