At one point during the 1980s, weather severely damaged garlic crops nationwide and rendered fresh garlic bulbs scarce. The dearth of garlic caused calamity in my house. Sure, the frozen sauce made for more than pasta dinners than normal, but my mother was lost without her staple ingredient. At one point, we alternated McDonalds and Burger King for dinner each night for about two weeks. (Side note: No, in fact, I don’t wonder why I’ve had weight problems for most of my life. Exhibits A and B are my parents.)
A garlic shortage would kill this soup. Tuesday dinner was sopa de ajo, or garlic soup served. There are two different versions. The Castilian version is heavy on the herbs (namely saffron) and uses eggs and bread to provide the protein and bulk. The Mexican style soup uses peppers and tomatoes, along with the egg to add flavor and substance. As I tend to do, I found a few different recipes and let the law of averages do the work. Basically, soup falls somewhere near the Canary Islands.
The simmered broth dulls the garlic’s pungency, allowing a sweet flavor (think roasted garlic) to meld with the poblano. Don’t be scared by the pepper. The spice is very mild. We’re not talking Scotch Bonnet or habanero here. The egg adds both protein and a creaminess to the soup. Es basically Guatemalan Peasant Soup.
While the flavor is not heavy on garlic, the residual exists. Today, one of my co-workers said that I smelled like garlic. Not my breath. Me. It’s a beautiful thing.
Sopa de Ajo
- 1/4 cup olive oil plus some extra
- 30 cloves of garlic (about eight ounces), peeled and smashed with a knife
- 6 cups chicken broth
- Two plum tomatoes, cubed and seeded
- One poblano pepper, roasted, seeded, peeled and chopped (instructions below)
- One pinch each of saffron, Spanish paprika, cumin
- 1/2 baguette
- 2 eggs
- White vinegar
- Manchego cheese, grated
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium. When the oil shimmers, lower to medium-low and add the garlic. Stir frequently, allowing the garlic to soften but only brown slightly, about 5-6 minutes. Remove garlic from the pan with a slotted spoon and set aside, leaving the oil in the pan.
- Add the pepper to the pan and heat 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook 1-2 minutes. Add the broth and herbs to the pan and return to a boil.
While waiting for the soup to come back to a boil, use a fork to mash the garlic. You want a nice mashed paste. Reserve one teaspoon of garlic and, when the soup boils, return the bulk of it to the pan and stir. Partially cover and allow to simmer 30-45 minutes.
- Turn the broiler of your oven on high. Add the reserved garlic to a small bowl with a sprinkle of sea salt and about 1 ounce of olive oil. Mix well. Put your baguette slices on a lined cookie sheet and brush slightly with the oil blend. Broil the bread slices until browned.
- About 10 minutes before you are ready to eat, fill a medium sauce pan about halfway, splash in some white vinegar and set on high. Crack one egg in a small bowl, taking care not to break the yolk. When the water boils, VERY GENTLY pour the egg into the pan. Poach the egg for 3-4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, removing the egg and set on a paper towel. Repeat this process with the other egg.
- Add a poached egg and a couple of bread slices to a bowl and serve the soup over the top. When read to eat, break the yolk and mix in. Sprinkle with the manchego.
Roasting a Poblano
This is actually pretty fun because you get to play with fire. Rinse the pepper and trim the stem from the top. If you have a gas range, light one of the front burners and set on medium-high heat. Set the pepper on the burner grate and let roast. You want the pepper to char as if it were on the grill. Keep an eye on the pepper and turn periodically with a pair of tongs to get a nice even char on all sides. (If you have an electric burner, use a grill pan. If you don’t have a grill pan, use an aim-n-flame.)