Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Vampire's Worst Enemy

Continuing with my theme of comfort food (since I'm still walking up seven flights of steps), I made another excellent Spanish comfort food recipe. It's called sopa de ajo a la castellana, which translates to Garlic Soup, and sounds much more pungent than it actually is. Like the dish in my previous post, this dish has very humble beginnings in the peasantry. The ingredients for traditional sopa de ajo are only garlic, water, paprika, salt, olive oil and stale bread. That's it!

The version I made is not the traditional version, it's actually in the style of central Spain where they allow the bread to absorb all of the liquid, and then scramble an egg into the mixture. The result is a warm and comforting concoction with an almost pudding-like consistency. Despite the dish's name, the flavor is actually a lot more balanced than you would think. The paprika and olive oil do a lot to mellow out the flavor of the garlic, as does the bread and even the water, so don't be afraid, there are no overwhelming flavors here.

I don't think you can really get a sense of the lovely texture of the dish from the photo. It's slightly more velvety than something like porridge or cream of wheat, but just as warming and with substantially more kick. I really like making this dish on a genuinely cold night and curling up on the sofa with a blanket and a heaping bowl of it. And, it's a great way to use up leftover bread. In fact, the bread MUST be stale in order for the dish to cook properly. So the next time you have leftover crusty bread, wrap it back up in a paper bag and leave it on top of your fridge for a few days to harden. You'll be happy you did.

Sopa de Ajo a la Castellana

Stale bread (enough for about 3 cups of cut bread)
4 cups of water
2 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 Tbsp paprika
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg

1. Cut bread into ringlets, about 1/2 inch thick and set aside. This MUST be stale crusty bread.

2. Add garlic to cold olive oil in a medium sized pot. Cook on medium heat until just starting to brown, then remove from the heat. When the oil has cooled, mix in the paprika. This is called a "refrito", and is the foundation for many dishes in Spain.

3. Move pot back on medium heat, and when the oil just starts to bubble again, add the water. When the water starts to boil, salt it to taste (I'd over salt a bit, since you'll be adding a great deal of bland bread). Slowly add in fistfuls of the bread, breaking each batch up with a wooden spoon before adding the next.

4. When all of the bread is added and almost all of the liquid is absorbed, add in the egg and keep stirring until it's cooked through and evenly distributed. Remove from heat and serve immediately (it will continue to thicken if it stays on the heat).

**TIP: If you'd like to try making traditional sopa de ajo, reduce the amount of bread by about half. This is a more soupy version, so don't wait for the liquid to be absorbed before you add the egg. If you want to be really traditional, skip the egg. But I like to think of it as a Spanish egg drop soup. Enjoy!


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