When we travel I always keep an eye out for at least one special dish or recipe that I can recreate at home and add to my ever-growing recipe repertoire. Similar to how I connect songs with places we have been to or certain occasions, food does the same thing for me: it will instantly bring back those fun days and sweetest memories with the very first bite or spoon, scientifically - if there was such as thing – it’d be the palate memory effect. Our latest trip to the Maldives wasn’t anything short of neither traditional fare nor exquisite cuisine, and yet the dish I was dying to try back home, was the soup that was the prelude to our late night dinner, shortly after we reached the island Hadahaa.
We had traveled some Indian ocean islands before, so we thought we knew what type of food to expect. Besides, after spending roughly 22 hours on planes and boats, anything will do the trick. For dinner’s sake we postponed our obligatory island discovery tour – it had turned already pitch-black outside and the kitchen was about to close. We skipped the showering part, headed for Relish restaurant and got a crash course on the menu. If you had told me, that I would choose international cuisine over Asian/Indian on our first evening I would have laughed it off, but that’s exactly what happened. Midnight was approaching fast, something light and refreshing seemed to be in order: the Watermelon-Strawberry Gazpacho with baked Goat Cheese.
Meanwhile we were the only guests left on the patio. The atmosphere was somewhat magical, gentle ambient music came from the inside, the sound of the ocean, our gecko friends chirping away, bats jay-flying and our first glass of wine. When the chilled soup was served, I knew right off the bat: This is it! My new favorite appetizer for the summer! The combination of chilled, sweet fruits and warm goat cheese surely sounded good to me when I saw it on the menu, but I didn’t expect it to knock me off my socks like it did. One of my personal 2011 favs so far.
We got a chance to talk to chef Bastian Mantey a few days later and he promised to send me the recipe, sadly we lost touch and he never did. So I had to rely on my tastebuds’ memories to recreate his Gazpacho recipe. It was tough to hold out for really tasty watermelons until last week, but in the end patience paid off. I started experimenting and just when our thermometer was headed for 30°C the results turned out as hoped. Just in time.
Everybody who comes near our apartment these days has to try it – IT IS SO GOOD. Especially in these scorching temperatures! Just make sure to use only very fragrant fruits, as the soup doesn’t come with much seasoning.
Start with the watermelon: Cut the melon in slices and generously cut off the rind (the flesh near the rind often lacks sweetness and flavor). Put 500 g of the flesh into your blender and mix well until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh sieve to remove pulp and seeds (discard), you will need 400 ml of watermelon juice to proceed.
Wash the strawberries, remove their stems and cut into pieces. Blend together with the watermelon juice until very smooth. Add the white wine and season (delicately!) with a pinch of sugar, fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Chill covered in the fridge for at least 3 hours. If you need it immediately, blend it with two or three ice cubes (season again, if necessary). It keeps well in the fridge for 1-2 days.
Prepare the goat cheese: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper on which you place the goat cheeses. Heat under the grill (~200°C/390°F) for a few of minutes (keep an eye on them!), the cheese should become warm and soft to the touch, but merely keep its white color.
Assemble: Pour the chilled soup into small, shallow bowls and – using a spatula – carefully place one goat cheese in the middle of each. Drizzle with olive oil and coarsely ground black pepper, maybe a mint leaf, and serve immediately!
Watermelon Strawberry Gazpacho with baked Goat Cheese
Recipe source: own creation, inspired by Bastian Mantey
Prep time: ~20 minutes
Ingredients (6-8 servings, as an appetizer):
500 g watermelon (without rind)
250 g strawberries (hulled)
50 ml white wine
sugar, fine sea salt, freshly ground black pepper to taste
small, mild goat cheeses, one per serving
optional, for decoration: fresh mint leaves