Recipe 4: Caldo Gallego (Galician Soup)

For 11 centuries many a weary pilgrim arriving in Santiago de Compostela by The Way of St. James has been revived by this pastoral dish. The amazing thing about it is how filling and satisfying it is for its very low calorie count (275 per serving). This recipe, like the others since Recipe 1’s direct translation from an old Asturian cookbook, is a household staple, and so I am sharing how I do it here with fresh, local, available ingredients, which, to my way of thinking, makes it true to the spirit of caldo gallego, a humble, rural, unpretentious dish. In fact, caldo means broth, not stew, not soup; and like any broth, it is the depth of flavor, not the precise identity of what is floating around, that defines it. For example, I use collard greens rather than chard because I prefer their toughness and slight bitterness. Traditional ingredients are in parentheses, but I think that pastoral cooking should never be constrained by cuisine chauvinism.

Although this is a sidra-focused website, I will allow that the traditional pairing for caldo gallego is a local vino verde. Well, today that would be an Albariño, as competitive wine nomenclature now arbitrarily (it strikes me) divides the wine produced in this region straddling the Rio Miño between Vino Albariño, D.O.P. on the Spanish side and Vinho Verde, D.O.C. on the Portuguese side. In betrayal of my allegiances, I point out that you can buy a terrific Vinho Verde for less than a comparable Albariño.

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 lbs. of bones of a hoofed animal. (traditionally ham hock)
  • 4 quarts of water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 lb. soaked pinto beans, navy or other white bean (traditionally alúbias)
  • 2 small or 1 large bunch of collard greens (traditionally chard)
  • 1/2 lb. unsliced, smoked bacon
  • 3 medium yellow or white peeled potatoes

Other common traditional components:

  • chunks of Spanish chorizo
  • chunks of beef or ham

Preparation:

Place bones in stockpot, cover with water and add salt. Bring to boil on high, reduce heat to simmer and skim foam that has formed. Cover and simmer for the rest of the day and evening. Leave covered without heat overnight. Resume simmering in the morning. If you are adding meat, cut into chunks, sear, add stock and simmer until tender.

Rinse and soak beans until plump. Remove the bones from the stock and add the beans, soaking liquid and all. Simmer beans uncovered until tender but firm, stirring occasionally for even cooking to uniform tenderness without any mushiness. Cover pot if liquid has evaporated to the point at which there is not a generous broth content, adding water as necessary to maintain a light broth consistency.

Thoroughly rinse and chop the greens into pieces half the size of dollar bills and toss them into the pot. Continue simmering until greens are al dente. Salt caldo to taste. Serve in soup plates with crusty bread on the side.

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