Rich and creamy, yet light and refreshing, ajoblanco is the sweet Spanish staple that we all know and love. It has simple ingredients, but is much more than the sum of its parts – and it's on the menu of super-stylish classic dishes at Madrid's La Cecilia de Allende.
Almonds, garlic, bread, sherry vinegar, olive oil and water are brought together to make this iconic cold soup. The spice-seekers might add a punch of chilli powder or a kick of cayenne to it, but it's perfect with just a sprinkle of salt and a pinch of pepper.
In colder climates, the prospect of a cold soup can bring people out in a cold sweat – but after a long day in the sun, it's a little piece of heaven.
With so few ingredients in ajoblanco, each one counts. You know when you're eating a top-quality creation. La Cecilia de Allende knows this too – the chefs break out the finest olive oil and the fanciest sherry vinegar in the kitchen. And forget cheap white bread that you can squish between your fingers – ajoblanco is all about the authentic loaf. It's got to be freshly baked, dense and doughy.
Patience pays off with ajoblanco too. After lightly toasting the almonds in a hot pan to bring out the natural nuttiness, chefs use a pestle and mortar to grind them into a fine paste. This brings a stronger depth of flavour, which can get lost when you just chuck all your ingredients into a blender.
Soaking the bread in water for a couple of hours beforehand too adds another layer of creaminess to the soup. There are no shortcuts if you want the good stuff.
It might be less famous, but ajoblanco is the wise and traditional mother of gazpacho. Often referred to as 'white gazpacho', it beat Europe's arrival of tangy tomatoes and sweet peppers by several centuries, and is a much richer, creamier and more delicate offering.
This versatile number works as any part of a meal. It can do homely and rustic, served up with a hunk of straight-from-the-oven fresh bread. But it can also be effortlessly elegant, a showstopper of sophisticated fine dining. Enjoy it on its own as an understated starter, or have it complement a main meal like a boss.
At La Cecilia de Allende, you'll find it served as a starter with tuna tartar, vibrant orange and shaved parmesan. The earthiness of the almonds, that sharp hit of garlic, and its velvety texture provide an ideal contrast with the savoury fish. The restaurant take this pairing a step further with their tataki tuna loin, serving the fish up with salad on a slick of ajoblanco. However you eat it, ajoblanco is a bowl of pure Spanish sunshine.
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