Last night we served Spanish garlic soup. Nearly every European country has a version of peasant garlic soup descending from centuries of home cooking. Garlic is cheap, abundant, and offers strong flavor. Most recipes include stale bread which thickens the soup and provides texture. A variety of spices and herbs can be included and raw eggs or aioli create a smooth finish. This is a soup that can help clean out leftovers.
Garlic is a special ingredient. It can cure a cold or turn away vampires. Its raw bite will kill an entire meal but the sweet smell of roasting is better than fresh baked cookies. It is a chore to peal, chop, or grate; and it can burn easily. I add chopped garlic to almost every soup that begins with sautéing onions – always right before I pour in the broth to prevent burning.
How you cook the garlic is the biggest variation in garlic soup. I tried one recipe two years ago that involved slowly sautéing the garlic, simmering, blending, and thickening with dry roasted bread. The soup turned too thick and could have substituted for cement. The overwhelming flavor could only be tolerated in small quantities as food force-fed a sick person. A second attempt with proper portions (less garlic and bread) would likely succeed but I was turned off and never again attempted this approach.
Most recipes either call for sautéing the garlic before simmering in broth, or roasting. America’s Test Kitchen suggested a slow simmer in an abundance of olive oil and a cup of broth. This is done after smashing the heads with a cleaver while trapped in a ziplock bag. The smashing helps release the flavor and 30-minutes of simmering completes the task. The paper skins stay in the mash since the whole broth will be strained before serving. In another pot I simmered more homemade chicken broth, Spanish paprika, fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay leaves. The recipe also calls for two parmesan cheese rinds. Mario Batali, the recently disgraced but brilliant Italian chef, teaches to save all parmesan cheese rinds for future soups. Freeze them, like bones, and throw them in a simmering pot. The cheese is so hardened by the time it works down to a rind that it remains in tact despite a long simmer. The added flavor is a good addition to many soups.
My chosen recipe then calls for combining the mash and broth, straining, and adding fresh grated parmesan, salt and pepper, and crushed red pepper to taste. You then temper a couple of beaten eggs with some of the soup and whisk the mixture into the entire broth. This creates a luxuriously smooth texture and adds a bit of body. Do not bring the soup back to a boil which might cause the eggs to curdle. This is not garlic and egg drop soup! I added a generous dollop of homemade roasted garlic aioli.
I skipped the traditional crusty bread because I failed to plan ahead with appropriately stale bread and I wanted the soup to be a lite starter. I served braised beef cooked in chicken stock, red wine, and Spanish paprika. The remaining aioli accompanied a platter of roasted asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and pearl onions. Braised beef with roasted vegetables is a good rustic style Sunday night family meal.
The soup was fine but lacked the WOW factor of great garlic flavor. I should have roasted the garlic and used six heads instead of four. I also wonder about using a stick blender with the roasted garlic before straining. That process might achieve the rich and sweet roasted flavor I craved. The soup also had a strong kick of heat that turned Kaela off after one bite. It worked for me but I need discipline to add spice slowly with regular tasting.
We will travel throughout Spain in May and I am eager to try a few Spanish garlic soups while there. My efforts yesterday are akin to reading the Shakespeare play before seeing it live. With a proper education in Spain, I hope that future efforts will produce better results and this soup will become a confident regular in my repertoire.