Recipe 2: Sopa Castellana/Sopa de Ajo (Sopa de Nada)

Every culture has some dishes that must have been invented out of dire need when there was little to eat. The ingenuity of these often elevates them to the status of regulars on the menu and hallmarks of regional cuisine. Sopa Castellana, named for the Spanish region than claims it, can also be found on menus around Spain as Sopa de Ajo, or garlic soup, for its main flavoring ingredient, but in my house we refer to it affectionately and always with longing as Sopa de Nada, “Nothing Soup”, to celebrate the amazing richness of a dish made from the last stale rinds of bread in the house, a few cloves of garlic and some water. Admittedly, we go for the luxury upgrade an egg poached with runny yolk in the soup. When your spoon cuts the egg-white in your bowl, the yolk oozes out into the soup as an unctuous accent which you can spoon up immediately, allow to thicken the soup, or a bit of both. But try not to miss the point: it is the toasted bread that gives the broth its depth of flavor and body.

This dish is also quick and easy to make when there is no time to spare, and it is not beyond the motivational limits of the lone cook with no family or guests to feed. (Maybe it is the ideal dish for when you have, indeed, lost everything.) This is a dish to be made and eaten immediately, so only make the number of servings you need. This recipe is for two. If you halve it, go a bit heavy on the water to account for faster evaporation, and if you multiply it don’t try to make an amount that requires more bread slices than will cover surface of the skillet as they should all be able to sit on top of the broth while simmering. This should be a made-to-order dish.

My wife is allergic to paprika (Woe is me.) But I have developed crafty alternatives to this ubiquitous Spanish seasoning, different ones depending on the dish. I gotta say, I am quite proud of my non-paprika version of this soup and recommend you give it a try also, even if just to prove the power of the basic ingredients independent of the particularity of seasoning. I hope my Spanish friends will accept my dietary adjustment rather than condemn my lack of orthodoxy.

Ingredients:

  • Olive Oil: 4 tablespoons
  • Fresh garlic: 4 average-sized cloves
  • Stale, crusty baguette: 4-6 round slices, medium thickness.
  • Water: 4 cups
  • Spanish paprika: to taste
  • Alternative seasoning: ground smoked coriander to taste, pinch of cumin, pinch of white pepper.
  • 2 raw eggs.

Preparation:
Bruise the garlic cloves and brown them in the olive oil at medium heat in a deep skillet. When light brown (before they begin to smell burned), remove and reserve them. Place the baguette rounds in the skillet and flip immediately to coat both sides with the oil, then brown well on both sides. When the bread is well browned, add the water, browned garlic cloves and seasoning and bring it back to a simmer. Simmer covered for 10 minutes.

If you are adding the eggs, crack them and drop them in carefully to poach unbroken five minutes after simmering resumes. Soup is ready in ten minutes, total, or a bit longer if necessary to cook the eggs to perfection.

Serving:
With a large serving spoon move the soggy bread to 2 shallow soup plates or single serving cazuelas (Spanish clay crockery), then carefully transfer the poached eggs and fill the plates with the broth. The soup will have body from dissolved bread and still have browned crusts to cut into and savor like fatback. And of course the poached egg will allow you to develop your own personal strategy for making it part of the soup.

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