Welcome to The Takeout’s Garlic Week, our Valentine to the world’s loveliest stink.
Sure, you like garlic. You’ve been enjoying our Garlic Week coverage, maybe even enough to try some garlic knots or bread or purchase a large braid of bulbs for your kitchen. Now, as this week nears its end, it’s time to take things up several levels. This is where we separate the garlic bulbs from the head, so to speak. Are you ready to take your garlic obsession to the next level? Are you ready for… ajo blanco?
The new (“kind of”) vegetarian cookbook Almonds, Anchovies, And Pancetta by Cal Peternell says ajo blanco is like a white gazpacho, hailing from southern Spain. This garlic-based soup is so strong, the book advises you to adjust your garlic additions based on the time of year, as the bulb flavor gets more intense as summer progresses. This is a great cold spring soup, featuring the brightness of cucumbers, the sweetness of melon, and the invigorating kick of garlic. (If you want to ease into it, start out by using only one clove; we used four or five.) It’s a little labor-intensive (including roasting, boiling, and peeling almonds), but for garlic aficionados, the effect will be worth it. The recipe suggests mint but any herb would probably work well here: The garlic is your most forward flavor, but it’s fun to have other elements (like the melon, maybe some parsley) to counteract.
When I say this soup is garlic-forward, I mean the garlic invades your bloodstream. A vampire would scream if you passed them on the street. You will brush your teeth after and it will make no difference. You’re practically guaranteed not to get a cold for the rest of the winter. What’s deceptive is that this soup is delicious on first bite—then a garlic aftertaste rises up and wallops you. If you love garlic, there’s nothing better.
I had some tasters say that this soup was too much for them, too intense of a garlic experience. That’s fine. Ajo blanco is not for them. What about you, though, garlic fan: Are you ready to take this garlic challenge on?
Recipe from Almonds, Anchovies, And Pancetta: A Vegetarian Cookbook, Kind Of by Cal Peternell
- 1 cup almonds, toasted
- 1 cup torn, crustless white bread
- 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced
- 2 scallions or one spring onion, all the white and most of the green parts, thinly sliced
- 1 or several garlic cloves, pounded (we went with several)
- 2 tsp. sherry vinegar
- 1/4 cup good olive oil, plus a little for drizzling on top of the soup
- 1/2 tsp. kosher or sea salt
- 6 to 8 ice cubes
- 1 small ripe green melon, peeled, seeded, cut into bite-sized cubes
- 6 mint leaves, thinly sliced
Bring a saucepan of water to a boil for boiling and peeling the almonds. The skins will slip right off most satisfyingly while the almonds are still hot out of the water, so work in batches: drop a small handful in the boiling water and fish them out after a minute. As soon as you can handle them, squeeze each almond to slip the skin off. If the skin sticks, dip the offender back in the water to loosen it. Discard the skins.
Tear the bread into a large mixing bowl. Add the cucumbers, almonds, scallions or spring onions, garlic, vinegar, live oil, and salt. Add the ice cubes, stir well to get the juices going, and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes to marinate and chill. Puree the soup in the blender, in batches if necessary and adding little splashes of water as needed to get it going. Pass through a strainer for a silkier texture, taste, adjust, and serve cold, scattered with cubes of melon and slices of mint, and drizzled with olive oil.
Reprinted with permission from Almonds, Anchovies, and Pancetta: A Vegetarian Cookbook, Kind Of. Copyright © 2018 by Cal Peternell. Published 2018 by William Morrow. All rights reserved.