As a bona fide garlic addict, I was delighted when I happened upon this recipe for “Sopa de Ajo” (Garlic Soup). A Spanish classic, its origins trace back to the days of “la cocina pobre” (poor man’s cusine) when shepherds, tending their flocks in the remote countryside, would cook meals for themselves in primitive huts using whatever simple ingredients they had around. The basic recipe calls for water, garlic and stale bread. Over time, variations evolved to include pimentón (the smokey Spanish paprika), poached egg, cumin, saffron and even dry sherry and chicken stock. Being true to the humble origins of the soup, I prefer using just water – it doesn’t muddle the garlic flavor. Once the water is infused with the garlic and spices, the soup is ladled into a crock, an egg is cracked into it and a crostino of bread fried in garlic oil is floated on top. The crock is then baked in the oven until the egg is poached.
The beauty of this soup is that you can put your own spin on it using whatever ingredients you have on hand. I can’t resist putting some greens in it like blanched escarole, kale or spinach. And who can resist topping the crostino with some cheese so it melts all nice and bubbly in the oven? With all the “medicinal” properties of garlic, it’s very comforting and great for whatever ails you on a cold winter’s day. Caveat: This soup is not for the garlic faint of heart – you will definitely exude garlic for a day or so after eating it!!!
SOPA DE AJO
13+ garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
4 slices stale country-style bread
1 tablespoon pimentón (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 quart water
Pinch of saffron (optional)
salt and pepper
Coat the base of a heavy-bottomed pot with olive oil. Lightly brown whole cloves of garlic. Remove garlic with slotted spoon and reserve. Brown the slices of stale bread on both sides in the garlic-infused oil. Remove from pot. Add your spices – pimentón and cumin – and toast quickly in the warm pot. Then add the water, a pinch of saffron and the reserved sautéed garlic. Let simmer for 30 minutes. You can then either pass the soup through a sieve or food mill, or blend it to break up the garlic and allow it to permeate the broth.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Ladle broth into 4 individual crocks. Crack one egg into each crock. Top with a slice of the toasted garlic bread and bake in the oven just until egg is gently poached. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
When ladling soup into bowl, you can add blanched greens such as escarole, spinach, arugula, dandelion, swiss chard or kale.
After topping the soup with the toasted bread, generously cover the top with cheese. I like to use asiago but you can use any semi-soft cheese such as provolone, manchego, cacio di Roma, etc. You can also choose to sprinkle parmigiano or pecorino romano over the top.