May 14, 2010

Barcelona and a Recipe For Ajo Blanco

A city the size of Barcelona cannot be experienced in a day. Not even close.

After four previous trips, Barcelona and I have gotten to know each other pretty well, so a whirlwind, less-that-ten-waking-hours trip to spend the last day with our New Orleans friend before his flight from BCN seemed a bit rushed, but it was a great way to end his visit.

The ten waking hours consisted of casual strolling through the streets of the atmospheric Barri Gotic, a fair amount of lounging in cafés and a lot of nibbling.  Lunch in the sun with a view of the port and the Mediterranean sea, dinner at 10pm in a crammed neighborhood tapas bar and breakfast at a grab-and go-place on the Autopista on our way home to France in a torrential rainstorm.
We savored every delicious moment.

Jamón ibérico, queso manchego, pan con tomate, patatas bravas, albondigas, mejillones a la marinera, pimientos de padrón (quite possibly one of the best things to eat. ever.), croquetas de jamón and tortilla española, all washed down with some heady, dark purple Rioja.

Where was the Paella you might wonder  And what about the sangria?
Paella is a traditional Valencian dish and I've never had a good version in Barcelona.  I think it's a bit like ordering Bouillabasse in must know where to go.  Besides, our neighbor makes the best version I've ever tasted.
And sangria?  Unless the bar makes it themselves, it usually comes from a bottle or a box and is suspiciously sweet and cloying stuff.

Barcelona is an incredibly unique, charismatic European city, and one of my favorites.
It is a decadent, colorful, sometimes demanding place, the kind of city that will thoroughly seduce you with her charms. And you'll be happy that she did.

Now on to the recipe.
I love this refreshing and tangy soup. It is so delicious, yet consists of such simple ingredients.  When the temperatures start to climb and our oven is off limits for the remainder of the summer, this is the kind of recipe that I turn to.

Cold Almond and Garlic Soup - Ajo Blanco
serves 8
From Spain and the World Table by The Culinary Institute of America
  • 2 cups loosely packed day-old country-style bread or fresh bread, torn into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 6 2/3 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped garlic
  • 2 cups blanched almonds
  • 2 ½ teaspoons salt - divided use
  • 1/2 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 16 medium green grapes, halved and seeded, for garnish
  • 2/3 cup toasted sliced almonds

  1. Soak the day-old bread in 1 1/3 cups of water in a medium bowl for 10 minutes. If using fresh bread, there is no need to soak it.
  2. Process the garlic and almonds in a food processor fitted with the steel blade for 1 minute, or until finely ground. Stop halfway through the process to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the soaked bread and any soaking water (or the fresh bread), 2 teaspoons of salt, vinegar, and oil, and blend for 2 minutes, or until a smooth paste forms. Add 2 cups of the water and blend for 2 minutes longer, or until smooth.
  3. Transfer to a medium nonreactive bowl and stir in the remaining 3 1/3 cups of water (use 4 1/3 cups if using fresh bread). Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours, or until well chilled.
  4. Stir the soup well, reaching to the bottom of the bowl, just before serving. Taste and adjust seasoning with ½ teaspoon of salt, or more if desired. Ladle 1 cup of the soup into each chilled soup bowl, garnish with the grapes and toasted sliced almonds, and serve.
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