Andalusia is the seductive, southernmost region of Spain, home of bullfighting and flamenco dancing, where Muslims, Jews and Christians have left their mark through the centuries in the culture, architecture, and of course, the food. This is the Spain of your dreams, where travelers go to discover whitewashed towns, freshly caught seafood, spicy chorizo, sherry wines and gazpacho. Andalusia Day is a relatively modern and widely celebrated holiday commemorating the 1980 referendum that made Andalusia an autonomous region with its own government. February 28th festivals are a great source of local pride complete with music, flag waving and balconies decorated with green and white buntings, the color of the region’s flag. In schools, children are served Andalucian-style breakfast tostada con aceite, toast rubbed with garlic, sprinkled with olive oil and often served with finely chopped tomato. When we visited Seville, one of the things we remember most is this delicious treat, magically appearing at the table as soon as we were seated.
We’re so delighted that Guido Jiménez-Cruz, an incredibly talented home cook whose family is from Sevilla, accepted our invitation to share a traditional Andalusian recipe to mark this occasion. He chose this beautiful and unusual (to us) cold soup called Ajo blanco.
At the heart of Andalusian cuisine is Ajo blanco, a cold soup made with almonds and garlic. This is a “white gazpacho” created before the discovery of the Americas (no tomato or peppers!). Like pesto, this is one of those magical recipes where the sum transcends the ingredients and is unbelievably easy, nutritious and refreshing. Serve with great bread, a Spanish cheese like manchego or idiazabal, and of course, some prized jamon iberico. A glass of chilled sherry would be lovely as well.
1 cup of blanched almonds,* lightly toasted
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 garlic clove
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup bread without crust, soaked in water (and squeezed of excess water afterwards)
1 cup milk (you could use almond milk)
1 cup of water
Sea salt to taste
1/4 cup Sherry Vinegar
Seedless green grapes, halved
¼ cup sliced toasted almonds
Put all ingredients together in a blender and puree until smooth. Serve chilled. Soup can be made 1 day ahead and kept chilled.
If desired, blanche grapes in boiling water for less than a minute to remove skins.
Garnish with grape halves and toasted slivered almonds and a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.
*Blanched almonds are basically almonds without the skin. If you can’t find blanched almonds at the supermarket, you can do it yourself pretty easily http://homecooking.about.com/cs/atozfoodindex/ht/blanch_almonds.htm