According to that unimpeachable source, your super, soar-away Sun, ‘experts say’ that this summer will be Britain’s hottest since records began 160 years ago. Nobody else is claiming anything like this, so it’s a Sun exclusive and I do hope they are wrong. I hate the heat and dash for the shady side of the street as soon as the sun comes out. If the temperature rises above 23 C, I feel exhausted by mid-morning, and my body feels like a lumpy sack dangling from my neck, to be dragged from stifling classroom to stifling office to stifling train. The Greek summer with its heatwaves of 40C and above was simply to be endured, and it was a huge relief in October when the first rains brought the blinding, itchy, scruffy, enervating season of kalokairi to a close.
Food has to work hard in the heat to make you feel like eating it, and I’ve been thinking about what to lay on to tempt the appetite when it’s knackered by a heat wave. I decided I’ll probably make some more ajo blanco, ‘white garlic’ a fantastic Spanish soup that you serve chilled – you and the soup. You needn’t sweat at all over this, since it requires neither cooking nor chewing, and it goes a treat with chilled dry sherry, something I’m very much into right now. I was out of the UK for 15 years and I have led a solitary and solipsistic life ever since I got back here, and it may be that ajo blanco is by now, like, you neigh, taytally yesterday. I like it, though, and it’s a while since I made some. If it is new to you, proceed in this wise.
First thing to do is select a sweltering hot day on which to serve it. Now, in Britain this could mean you won’t get to taste ajo blanco for a very long time, so you may want to consider how seriously you are prepared to take this particular stricture. On a day when the portents are favourable, assemble the ingredients. My recipe calls for day old, good quality white bread. This poses another difficulty for us here, because once you have mounted an expedition to find an establishment where ‘good quality bread’ may be used as an unironic collocation, it might be cold and grey the following day, so once again I’ll have to let you off if you don’t follow my requirements to the letter. You will also need some blanched almonds, some top-drawer extra virgin olive oil, plenty of ice-cold water, a splash of white wine vinegar, a fat clove of garlic and some salt.
Cut the crust off the bread and feed it to the birds, or otherwise dispose of it. Now run the naked white of the bread under the cold tap, squeeze out the moisture, and shove the bread into the goblet of a blender along with the almonds and garlic and vinegar. Adding iced water and olive oil, whiz the lot to a liquid the colour and thickness of single cream. Add salt until you are quite delighted. Put the soup in the fridge and keep it very cold until you are ready to serve it. When, after sufficient appetite-inducing chilled sherry, the time comes to eat, ladle the soup into chilled bowls and chuck a few halved, seeded and peeled grapes and an ice-cube or two into each one. If the thought of peeling grapes wearies you as thoroughly as it does me, throw in some balls of galia melon instead. I couldn't be arsed to peel a grape, but there's a certain innocent pleasure to be had from balling a melon.
I thought this soup would make a good starter to precede the fish dish I wrote about last month. I’ve been making fish this way a lot lately, accompanying it with roasted peppers and rice, which I cook in fish stock flavoured with bay leaves, smoked paprika, a small blob of tomato puree and a splash of dry white wine.
The ‘white garlic’ is for the future. It’s grey and damp and cold here now, and for me, it can stay that way as long as it likes.