Cold Soup: Ajo Blanco

It’s September, time fo buy fresh almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts; time to make Spanish Almond Soup. It’s made of white almonds, water, old bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and perhaps a pinch of salt. And trust us, there is no need to add anything else. No cucumber, green apples, jalapeño, chicken stock, pepper, flowers, white grapes, milk, aioli, Balsamic vinegar, raisins, cream, yoghurt, pine nuts or melon. We love creativity, but the ingredients people suggest to brighten up Ajo Blanco, it’s amazing. Especially because there is no need to add anything to the original.

Mention Ajo Blanco and someone will say ‘white gazpacho’. Because both are cold soups, because both are from Spain? We can’t think of any other reason, so please, please don’t even think about gazpacho when you serve Ajo Blanco.

What You Need

  • 70 gram White Almonds
  • 200 ml ice-cold Water
  • 30 gram old stale White Artisanal Bread without the crust
  • 1 medium Garlic Clove
  • 1 tablespoon Jerez Vinegar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 70 ml Olive Oil
  • 10 gram of Roasted Almonds

What You Do

Buy excellent almonds, so not the soft, bland ones from the supermarket. Start by very, very lightly roasting the white almonds in a dry non-stick pan. Let cool. Soak the bread for 10 minutes. Roughly chop the garlic. Using a heavy blender or food processor whizz the almonds, the garlic and some of the water until nearly smooth. Squeeze out the bread. Add bread and remaining water to the mixture. Continue blending. Add vinegar and salt. Check the mixture for taste and smoothness. It should be very smooth, cream like; this may take 1 minute on turbo! When happy with both smoothness and taste, slowly add olive oil with the blender running on low speed. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator for at least two hours. Also cool the bowls you want to use.
Just before serving crush some roasted almonds and sprinkle these on the soup.

Chicken with Fresh Oregano

Thyme, Oregano, Basil, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage: all powerful Mediterranean herbs. Oregano, or Wild Marjoram, is an interesting one. Probably best known as the herbal ingredient of pizza. A dried herb, one to store in a jar, forget about and then use beyond its ‘use-by date’ and be disappointed.
Such a pity because fresh oregano is aromatic, slightly bitter, pungent and perhaps chemical, depending on the variety, of course. Great to combine with lamb, a tomato salad, grilled fish and of course chicken. It’s also great to flavour olive oil with oregano. So ask your supermarket or local greengrocer for fresh oregano!

Wine Pairing

We enjoyed our chicken and oregano with a glass of Rioja Paternina Reserva 2015 produced by Marques de la Concordia. Reserva means that the wine ages for a minimum of 3 years, with at least 1 year in oak barrels. The grapes are tempranillo, mazuelo and garnacha; very typical for Rioja. It’s a powerful, full-bodied red wine with aromas of black cherries and touch of vanilla and various spices. The wine goes very well with the velvety chicken and the very present flavours of the oregano.

What You Need

  • Chicken Thighs
  • Olive Oil
  • Black Pepper
  • Chicken Stock
  • Lots of Fresh Oregano

What You Do

Halve the thighs, heat a heavy iron skillet, add olive oil and quickly fry the meat on all sides. Reduce the heat and add two third of the chopped oregano. Keep on low to medium heat for 10 minutes or so. Add some chicken stock, just to deglaze the pan. You will notice that the juices becomes green thanks to the oregano, so please coat the meat with the cooking liquid. Just before serving add the remaining oregano, some freshly ground black pepper and mix.
Serve with green beans, cooked in water with fresh garlic, wrapped in pancetta (after having grated some nutmeg over the beans) and then fried for 5 minutes in some olive oil.

  • Chicken with Fresh Oregano ©cadwu
  • Federico Paternina Rioja Reserva 2015 ©cadwu
  • Fresh Oregano ©cadwu



Ajo Blanco

Tasty, Simple and Rich

The talent of keeping things simple: that’s very true for Spanish Almond Soup. It should consist of white almonds, water, old bread, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and perhaps a pinch of salt. And trust us, there is no need to add anything else. No cucumber, green apples, jalapeño, chicken stock, pepper, flowers, white grapes, milk, aioli, Balsamic vinegar, raisins, cream, yoghurt, pine nuts or melon. We love creativity, but the ingredients people suggest to brighten up Ajo Blanco, it’s amazing. Especially because there is no need to add anything to the original.

Blanc Manger

The use of almonds and almond milk to thicken liquid was well known in medieval times. In the classic Van Soeter Cokene (1971), professor Johanna Maria Van Winter describes four recipes for Blanc Manger, the oldest one (Blamensier) from Germany (14th century).  It contained white almonds, goat milk, chicken, lard, sugar and violets (for colouring). A similar dish was enjoyed by Royalty in England in the 15th century. Also from that century is Brouès d’Allemagne. It contained almond milk, ginger, cinnamon, onions, lard and many other ingredients making for a hearty dish. Blancmanger was also known in 15th century France, as a dish for the sick with almonds and sugar.

Ajo Blanco seems to have its origin in Roman time, others mention Moorish roots. The soup is linked to Málaga and Granada. Ajo Blanco survived and Blamensier became extinct. Perhaps because Ajo Blanco is tasty, simple and rich whereas Blamensier is rather tasteless with the consistency of porridge?

Gazpacho

Mention Ajo Blanco and someone will say ‘white gazpacho’. Because both are cold soups, because both are from Spain? We can’t think of any other reason, so please, please don’t even think about gazpacho when you serve Ajo Blanco.

What You Need

  • 70 gram White Almonds
  • 200 ml ice-cold Water
  • 30 gram old stale White Artisanal Bread without the crust
  • 1 medium Garlic Clove
  • 1 tablespoon Jerez Vinegar
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 70 ml Olive Oil
  • 10 gram of Roasted Almonds

What You Do

Buy excellent almonds, so not the soft, bland ones from the supermarket. Start by very, very lightly roasting the white almonds in a dry non-stick pan. Let cool. Soak the bread for 10 minutes. Roughly chop the garlic. Using a heavy blender or food processor whizz the almonds, the garlic and some of the water until nearly smooth. Squeeze out the bread. Add bread and remaining water to the mixture. Continue blending. Add vinegar and salt. Check the mixture for taste and smoothness. It should be very smooth, cream like; this may take 1 minute on turbo! When happy with both smoothness and taste, slowly add olive oil with the blender running on low speed. Transfer the mixture to the refrigerator for at least two hours. Also cool the bowls you want to use.
Just before serving crush some roasted almonds and sprinkle these on the soup.

Ajo Blanco © cadwu
Ajo Blanco © cadwu

Pimientos de Padrón

Lovely and Simple Starter

Pimientos de Padrón are mild, sweet tasting and small green peppers, originally from the Galicia region in Spain, but now widely available in Spain and Portugal. Story has it that one in a hundred (or more?) is actually very spicy, but rest assured, we have eaten many more and never encountered a spicy one. Ask your greengrocer for these lovely peppers because we’re sure you will enjoy them.

Wine Pairing

We would suggest drinking a Vinho Verde with the Pimientos de Padrón. Vinho Verde is a wine from the most northern part of Portugal, between the Douro and Minho rivers. Verde refers to the fact that the grapes are harvested very early in the year. This implies that the grapes contain a fairly small amount of sugar. As a result of this the wine (in most cases) has a fairly low percentage of alcohol (think 10%). But don’t be surprised if you find one with a higher percentage.

About Vinho Verde

In general we feel Vinho Verde is undervalued. It’s a great, very taste wine; one that is not just wonderful on a summers evening.
Vinho Verde is not a wine to store, so make sure you buy one from the most recent harvest.
Most Vinho Verde wines are white. They tend to have a very subtle bubble. The taste is light, floral and the wine comes with some clear acidity.
We also found a rosé and a red Vinho Verde. Seldom have we seen a wine with such an intense colour! To balance the acidity of the red Vinho Verde you must be combined with fat meat or rich sauces. We combined it with grilled Secreto of Iberico pork, which is a treat in its own right. Secreto is a thin, juicy cut from acorn fed, free range Iberico pigs.

Secreto

As an extra: for two people buy 300 grams of Secreto. In a way the structure of the secreto resembles skate. One side of the secreto will look nice, fat and meaty, the other may look like if you have to remove extra fat. Which is exactly what you need to do! After having done that, heat a heavy grill pan (or the barbeque) and grill the meat for 4 times one minute, creating a nice pattern. The cuisson should be rosé. It’s not a problem if the thinner parts of the secreto are well done because the meat will be very juicy anyway, thanks to the fat. Serve with a sautéed courgette. The bitterness and the sweetness of the courgette combines really well with the juicy secreto. The red Vinho Verde will balance the fat and will turn the combination of secreto and courgette into an intriguing dish.

What You Need

  • Pimientos de Padrón
  • Olive Oil
  • Sea Salt

What You Do

Clean the Pimientos de Padrón and dry the peppers. Heat a heavy skillet, add olive oil and fry the peppers for a few minutes. Make sure they are fried but not cooked. Sprinkle some sea salt over the Pimientos de Padrón, fry for a few seconds making sure the salt is somewhat adsorbed in the olive oil. Serve immediately.