Ajo Blanco, Mario Batali, Almonds, Mallorca and more...
Almonds, almonds, almonds. On my trip to Spain (affectionately titled “The in Search of Mario Batali Trip” in honor of his recent public television show) I discovered three ingredients I don’t understand how I ever lived without. First, Iberian jamon (ham) which is indescribably delicious and technically not an ingredient since you just eat it. Second, pimenton, which is Spanish paprika and tastes so indescribably delicious it explodes subtle flavor into paella and other dishes.
The third magical ingredient is almonds. The Spanish island of Mallorca is famous for its almonds and I’ve always loved them. They have so many uses. You can throw them into a salad for crunch and flavor. I love them sprinkled on top of asparagus that has been gently cooked and then drizzled lightly with olive oil. I even eat almonds raw and plain as a snack. They are filling, low in trans fat, have no cholesterol, and are an excellent source of fiber.
The most incredible almond recipe was the almond cake that every restaurant in Majorca had its own spin on.
Gazpacho is dish I had never eaten before. Did you know there are three kinds? Red, green, and white. The white is known as ajo blanco and is made with—what else?—almonds. Gazpacho was originally from Andalusia and was peasant food-it used stale bread so there was nothing wasted. Most people think the red gazpacho came first. It didn’t. Tomatoes (and peppers) were imported after the Spanish had discovered the New World. So it is entirely possible that white was the original.
Stale Italian or French bread
¾ cup slivered toasted almonds (toast under the broiler for a minute or two)
1 garlic clove smashed (garlic lovers may add more)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups white grape juice
2 cups water
2 cups white seedless grapes
1 cup heavy cream whipped (optional)
Remove the bread crust. Cube the pieces. Place the bread inside a big bowl full of water. When soaked, wring out. Put the almonds, garlic, grapes, grape juice, water and bread in a food processor and puree until smooth. Slowly add the olive oil and blend.
Chill at least 30 minutes before you serve. Add a few pieces of homemade croutons, some grapes cut in halves, and some toasted slivered almonds to garnish. If you want to make it decadent, use whipped heavy cream. Add to the top of the gazpacho when you serve it. Not Spanish but oh so wonderful!