Castilian Garlic Soup - Sopa de Ajo Castellana
The three essential ingredients in this soup--garlic, bread, and water--all need to be of good quality. Do not be tempted into thinking that stock is an improvement since it masks the other flavors. Beyond that, though, you can improvise around the local variations in ingredients: lard is used rather than olive oil in Zamora, for example, and pepper seeds and chopped tomatoes are added in León. You can also sauté the garlic first. Usually the bread is broken into small pieces so it swells into sops, but I like this fried-bread version given to me by Vale Riana, who was born in the Burgos countryside but cooked for a Madrid family for thirty years. Garlic soup was often eaten early on winter morning before going out into the bitter cold, and I really enjoy it that way.
Makes 4 servings.
Prep Time: 25 min.
Cook Time: 50 min.
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3 cups water
Heat the water in a flameproof casserole. Chop or pound the garlic to a paste, using a mortar and pestle, a garlic press, or the blade of a knife. Add the garlic to the water and leave it to cook through for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the bread very thinly (leave the crust on) and fry it in the olive oil, sprinkling a little pimentón and salt in the oil. Add the bread and oil to the water and simmer gently for another 10-15 minutes. You can leave the soup for several hours or overnight at this stage.
Just before serving, poach the eggs in the soup: break each egg, in turn, into a ladle and lower into the soup. Remove from the heat as soon as the white is set and serve into deep bowls. The idea is to stir the soup around so the egg breaks and continues cooking in threads.
Selected by Vicky Hayward
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