White is the absence of all color. This might be why white foods, at least on the plate, are not particularly appetizing; their only enthusiasts seem to be palate-challenged kids between the ages of 6 and 9. My visual memory doesn’t have a track for whiteness in it – all flesh of this variety was consistently and neatly obscured by sauce or sear. Love of whiteness reflects an inflexible palate; love of whiteness is an acquired taste.
One white food in particular has fascinated me over the years: it is a tomato-starved variety of gazpacho that I make and serve to mark the summer’s passing. Unlike its counterparts – red, orange, yellow or green – white gazpacho is hearty and forgiving – it will not be killed with the addition of too much sherry vinegar or overzealousness with the olive oil. There are several versions out there and if you travel to Spain and catch a local newscast in the early part of the afternoon, you will see varieties of them tested and tasted on a weekly basis.
This version cheats on the no-tomato bit – I add just a little green tomato to brighten the thick soup. Your degree of thickness will depend upon the strength of your artisan bread maker’s starter and your grape. Don’t worry; you can always thin with a little filtered water or seltzer (the bubbles give it a nice little tang, without changing the flavor). You might even try thinning with the white wine you are drinking, but I find that the drier the wine, the better the soup and this one requires a wine with more heft.
Whenever possible, you should try a local variety of green grape. A North Carolina scuppernong went into my version – bitter thick skins and strong musty sweetness added a balance to the soup that I enjoyed far beyond the California cousin I have always courted. The local grape will surprise you with its flavor and your green tomato will change its seat to be next to such a randy little partner. The jury is out on the yogurt, depending upon the type of bread you choose, you’ll either want a think yogurt, like the Greek variety, or forego it altogether and stay as southern as you please with a good locally produced buttermilk. But, be careful what you wish for: your flavor could go south; testing first with the base before adding the yogurt is wise here. Use the best sherry vinegar and olive oil (L’Estornell) you can find. Perhaps the most difficult decision you will make has to do with texture – I guarantee that half your guests will want it slightly gritty, the other will want it smooth as silk. Go with your taste – choose a fine sieve for silk or an antique chinoise with bigger holes for gritty.
The biggest twist here on the finish is seriously southern – when you live in a state where people fry pickles, you know they have to be good. Who would waste good frying oil on a badly pickled cucumber? I found a small jar of pickled green tomato from the “Farmer’s Daughter” at my local farmer’s market. Wonderful, crisp and seriously sour.
Now assemble the garnish: think about a Now & Later fruit chew – that perfect blend of tart and sweet in the mouth. Now top the soup: finely dice a little cucumber, some green tomato and the pickles. Nest them in the middle and drizzle with the Spanish olive oil. I served this one with a 2008 Miret Penedès, Clar de Castanyer aged in chestnut barrels – the flavor produces a nice slight smoke at the back of the tongue. I have my wine friend, Jay Murrie at 3Cups to thank for the stellar recommendation.
1 green tomato
2 cloves of garlic, par-boiled or boiled in canola oil until soft (do not brown, it will be bitter)
A little shy of one pint of local green grapes
1½ cups of day old country bread, no crust, it increases the gluten in the soup
¼ cup best olive oil (Arbequina will compliment the flavors of this soup nicely)
1 cup of thick whole milk yogurt, or buttermilk, if you desire.
¾ cup of marcona almonds
1-2 small/medium sized market cucumbers, your taste, leave some for garnish
¼ – ½ tsp. Spanish powdered smoked pimentón, of course.
Start with the garlic. Then add it (no water or oil of course) to your blender or, if you are lucky, your Magimix. Add grapes, cucumber, yogurt, almonds, bread, and ¼ of the small green tomato. Blend. While doing so, add in a slow steam of the olive oil.
Your choice, grainy or silky. Top with green tomato, pickled tomato, cucumber and a nice little shake of olive oil. Uncork your white and serve with green olives in brine and lots of crusty, warm bread. Enjoy.