Friday, August 30, 2013

Hot weather? No problem!

Spanish food charms me--not only for its sophistication and rich flavor profiles, but also because of the variety of small plates and sensory experiences that tapas provide.  Perfect for warmer weather, when lighter appetites mean grazing instead of full-out guerilla dining (as Vindaloo is prone to do), tapas bring your palate a kaleidoscope of deliciousness and the feeling that you've been well-fed. 

Some of my favorites: rich, dense tortilla espanola with romesco sauce; rustic bread rubbed with fresh garlic and toasted with a lavish drizzling of rich, extra-virgin olive oil, then rubbed with fresh, ripe tomato halves; olives stuffed with anchovies and garlic and then gently pan-fried; tender pieces of pork bathed in a marinade of extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, cumin and smoked paprika; and nutty Manchego cheese, membrillo and/or pasta de guayaba with fresh mint leaves (what I like to call M y M y M).

M y M y M

But in August, when it's really hot in central Texas, I love cold Spanish soup.  Gazpacho?  Sure, but I love Sopa de Ajo Blanco even more.  Creamy and rich from extra-virgin olive oil and almonds, this soup relies on the simplest of ingredients and gets its impact from fresh garlic and sherry vinegar.

Traditionally served with green grapes, my version of this soup is elevated and modernized with a rustic salsa of fresh green grapes, scallions, watercress, toasted garlic and toasted almonds.  Fresh, authentic Spanish flavors meld into a delightful afternoon pick-me-up or an elegant appetizer for guests.  It doesn't hurt that it's beautiful to look at as well.

Serve this soup in an elegant parfait glasses or rocks glasses, or even mugs with the grape salsa alongside.  It pairs beautifully with a budget-friendly Torrontes such as La Vuelta, or for a really elegant glass of wine, Alta Vista Torrontes PremiumAsk your local Wine Guy at Spec's to help you find a great wine to enjoy for more hot-weather sipping.

White Garlic Soup (Sopa de Ajo Blanco)

     Chill this soup well and garnish with smoked paprika if you wish.  An anchovy garnish is authentic and tasty.

1/2 cup blanched, peeled almonds or slivered almonds
3-4 slices stale bread from a baguette or other rustic loaf
3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
4 cups water
5 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 Tbs. sherry vinegar (or to taste)
1 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
smoked paprika to garnish, if desired
anchovy fillets to garnish, if desired
1.)  Trim crusts from bread slices and place in a bowl with 1-2 cups cold water.
2.)  Meanwhile, place garlic and almonds into a food processor or blender. Blend on pulse until smooth.
3.)  Remove bread from water with slotted spoon and squeeze out excess water.
4.)  Add bread and 1 tsp. salt to processor or blender; pulse to blend. 
5.)  With motor running, slowly drizzle olive oil, then vinegar, and finally the water into the work bowl. 
6.)  Taste and adjust for salt, vinegar and oil.  
7.)  Strain through a sieve into a container or bowl (I use a large plastic pitcher with a tight-fitting lid), pressing as much as possible through the sieve.
8.)  Chill at least 2-3 hours or up to 24 hours.  Serve in chilled bowls or glasses, garnishing as desired with smoked paprika and/or anchovies.  Serves 4 to 12, depending on the course.

Green Grape Salsa

     It's traditional to serve fresh green grapes alongside Sopa de Ajo Blanco, but I think this salsa is lovely, either eaten along with, or added to the soup.

2 cups green grapes, washed well and chopped with a very sharp knife
2 scallions, sliced thinly
2 Tbs. chopped watercress
1/2 tsp. dried minced garlic (such as Penzey's), toasted carefully in a dry skillet until golden
a drizzle of local honey
juice of 1/2 lemon
kosher salt, to taste
2 Tbs. marcona almonds, chopped and toasted in a dry skillet (or use sliced almonds, toasted the same way)

Combine grapes, scallions, water all ingredients except marcona almonds and chill briefly.  Portion out in small servings to be eaten alongside the above soup recipe.  Garnish portions evenly with chopped or sliced almonds just before serving.  Makes about 1 3/4 cups.