In 2001, DPaul and I spent a month traveling and eating our way through Spain. We began the trip in Sitges and Barcelona, meandered our way through Andalucía for nearly two weeks, then wrapped things up with a quick jaunt to Toledo and finally nearly a week in Madrid. It was a life-changing trip on many levels.
Andalucia was the unqualified highlight. Being the last holdout of the Moorish kingdoms until the advent of the Catholic Monarchs at the end of the 15th century, it remains a place that speaks of cultural connections to the Islamic world in a way otherwise unseen in modern Europe. To this day, the whitewashed streets of Granada sport signs in Arabic, and you're more likely to encounter a tea house offering strong, tooth-achingly sweet mint tea than a Starbucks.
Our last stop in Andalucia was Córdoba, once the Moorish seat of government of nearly all of Iberia. The site to be seen is the Mezquita, a former mosque-turned-cathedral, famed for its forest of columns spanned by candy-striped arches.
Traveling with our friend Kate, we descended upon Córdoba by train from Sevilla, having already spent some ten days in the region. The Mezquita was our destination, but first, lunch beckoned.
We didn't really have a plan, just stumbling into the first place that looked nice nearby the Mezquita. Not uncommonly, this restaurant was nestled into an older building, occupying an al fresco courtyard, almost a cloisters. We took our seat, and were immediately presented with a glass of sherry poured directly from a cask in the middle of the floor. Good start.
I don't remember everything we had that day; in fact, I remember only one thing: A white gazpacho. It had never occurred to me that there was any kind of gazpacho other than the tomato-based variety, and I was entranced.
I knew it was made with almonds, but nothing more. For years it haunted me, and until recently I could find no recipes or even reference that such a thing existed. But then, just as it once again began to knock about in the dark corners of my memory, it presented itself to me. Catherine had beaten me to the punch, and posted a recipe. Such timing.
Similar to the classic ajo blanco, utilizing the same ingredients but with a lighter hand on the garlic and more grapes, this dish is everything I remember: The richness of almonds, sweetness from grapes, coolness from cucumbers and an unctuous texture. There's nothing like it.
This is one of the recipes I did a dry run ahead of time, and was glad I did. The gazpacho benefits from repeated processing and straining; you want to make it as smooth a texture as possible, though a mild graininess from the almonds isn't too offensive. I followed the advice of one of Catherine's commenters and allowed the mixture to stand a bit after the first processing to allow the flavors to infuse and the almonds to soften for a silkier texture. For garnish, I skewered a few grapes on a pick and set them asea in the soup.
1 c. blanched Marcona almonds
1 c. seedless white grapes
1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded
1 garlic clove, smashed or coarsely chopped
6 slices rustic white bread (not sourdough), crusts removed and torn in pieces
2-1/2 c. cold water
1/2 c. good, fruity extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp good sherry vinegar
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients and process until everything is broken down, working in batches if necessary. (We have a rather large Cuisinart, so we were able to do it all in one whir.) Keep the mix in the fridge for at least an hour. Process until smooth, and pass through a fine mesh sieve, using the back of a spoon to push through. Return the solid material in the sieve to the processor and whir again, and pass through the sieve once more. Discard any solids that do not break down sufficiently. If you want to be extra thorough, return the passed soup to the processor and give it another good whir, and a final pass through the sieve. Refrigerate and serve chilled. Garnish with grapes.