The new year has brought with it a need for cleaning. And organizing. A lot of organizing, coupled with the putting away of childish things. Well, not quite all things re-eally. That PS2 is going nowhere until it gets replaced with a PS3 someday. (Where else can you learn about Greek Mythology and hack Medusa to bits at the same time?). The problem with having a multitude of interests is that they have a way of taking over precious space and multiplying. Books seem to settle down onto available surfaces and proceed to invite their friends and relatives over to join them, then begin masquerading as surfaces themselves. Magazines try to outmatch them by throwing raucous parties that have them flopping all over everything. Guitars and cameras start showing signs of aspiring to world domination, upon the imminent conquest of our home. Then there is our music collection. We find there was a downside to being able to carry 10,000 songs in your pocket. You end up having 10,000 songs in your pocket. Finding anything in there takes a while. A possible upside? If you want your cooking of soup to be accompanied by a (fairly unhealthy to some) dose of Nirvana, you can easily do so without looking for CDs under those towering stacks of books.
Soup seems to be the obvious choice to counteract the excesses of the holiday season. The weekend that saw some fog-ridden grey days appeared to corroborate this. On the Ipod, Cobain rambled on about the friends he found in his head. Meanwhile, I moved some websites around on my screen and toppled some book towers over before I chanced upon a quaint recipe for garlic soup, requiring very little effort on my part and just as few ingredients. Entirely too prim a soup for Nirvana, but sometimes the most unlikely things work in pairing.
As long as garlic has been around, there have been cultures that have been known to shun it. Fortunately, I wasn’t born into any of them. I’ve had an ongoing love affair with the stinking rose since I can remember. This is one of those vegetables that has a game-like quality about it, the kind that gets your attention as a child. How many cloves in this bulb? Are there any hidden ones? Can I get them all? Garlic is second only to shelling peas and pomegranate in the entertainment it can provide a kid with. As it did for me. It was a simpler time, before Space Invaders entered my life. And Nirvana.
Garlic is one of those ingredients that can play different parts in a dish. In this context, ‘less is more’ takes on a whole new meaning. A lot depends upon how it is cooked or how much of it is cooked together. Raw garlic really screams through a recipe and a little goes a long, long way. Cooked quickly with high heat, its pungency is accentuated and its garlicky flavour is amplified. Cook it slowly at low heat and your patience is rewarded with a sweet and fragrant garlic, completely unlike the raw one, so soft and buttery. In terms of quantity, one raw finely minced or crushed clove is likely to be more pungent and garlicky than the whole cooked cloves of an entire bulb. Think about that the next time you see garlic ice-cream on the menu. (It contains lots of slow-cooked garlic. Probably one of the sweetest ways to get your anti-oxidants.)
For this soup, you peel some cloves of garlic, then drop them into a vessel of gently heating oil or fat of your choice. There they remain for the next half hour or so, not browning, just softening away in the oil until they seem to be melding with it. With the addition of some stock and a little seasoning, the precedence of calm established by gently-cooking garlic continues to grow. The tranquility of the proceedings is shattered as you blend the ingredients together. It reaches a crescendo as you whisk in some egg. The dish then comes back to its serene beginnings as you gaze upon the most fragrant pale cream-brown liquid you ever saw, putting the prettiest cafe-au-lait to shame. The entire process took very little effort and time on my part, which was great. As the garlic cooked, it filled the apartment with the most hunger-inducing fragrance we had ever experienced. It took considerable effort to stop from standing over the cooking vessel with a spoon. Luckily, we were busy waging war on books and stuff.
At first glance, the recipe is so uncomplicated that you might easily pass it by in a book, as the more exciting ones catch your eye. What first caught my attention was the fact that garlic was receiving star billing here. It isn’t customarily the focus of a recipe. It lends its genius to other ingredients usually, allowing them to shine, complementing their brilliance. It is somewhat like a good rhythm section in a musical composition, holding everything together while the strings go blazing about. However, a good rhythm section doesn’t play second fiddle. It makes its presence felt. Just like Dave Grohl’s heavy-handed drumming made Nirvana’s sound what it was, propelling the genius of Cobain. But Grohl went on (post-Nirvana) to show that he was a gifted musician in his own right. He has outshined his Nirvana legacy to forge a strong individual identity. When garlic is the central performer, it is a bit like that. It dazzles, it scores and you don’t miss a thing. This soup shows the flair that garlic has all on its own, needing no other major player to carry it through. It is, in a word, brilliant.
Adapted from Beard on Food by James Beard via Saveur
Serves 3-4 as an appetizer and 2 as soup-for-dinner
Olive oil – 2 1/2 tbsp
Garlic – 16-18 cloves, peeled
Chicken stock – 4 cups
Egg yolks – 3
Nutmeg – a good pinch
Bacon fat – 1/2 tbsp (optional)
Salt & pepper to taste
Thick slices of bread, toasted
- With the knob turned between ‘medium’ and ‘low’, gently heat 2 tbsps of oil. Add the garlic to this and cook until softened considerably (could take from twenty minutes to a half hour).
- Pour in the chicken stock. Season with salt and pepper and grate in the nutmeg. Allow the mixture to come to a simmer and then heat for fifteen to twenty minutes.
- Blend the soup until it is smooth. Return to the heat.
- In a bowl, beat the egg yolks together. Add in the 1/2 tbsps of bacon fat and olive oil and whisk some more. Then slowly beat in about 1/4 cup of the heated soup mixture into the eggs, whisking continuously.
- Now, pour the egg yolk mixture into the garlic-chicken stock soup vessel, beating continuously. In a minute or two, the soup will thicken slightly. Continue to heat at a low temperature until cooked through.
- Pour the soup into a bowl and put in a toasted piece of bread on top. Serve immediately.
The original recipe asked for chicken, goose or pork fat. Since the closest thing I had to any of these things was bacon, I crisped up some slices and used a bit of the dripped fat. You can make this completely devoid of animal fats and use only olive oil, or you could use a mixture of olive oil and butter. Any of it would work. Veggie stock is great for a vegetarian option (though not vegan). Make sure that the heat is low enough so that the garlic doesn’t brown. You are only looking for softened garlic here. If you are going to use the blender or food processor (instead of an immersion blender), make sure the mixture cools slightly before you do. Adding some of the garlic broth to the eggs tempers them and raises their temperatures, reducing the chance that they will curdle when introduced to the soup. Keep the heat low when you add the eggs into the soup for the same reason. This is a soup that must never be brought to a boil. You could serve it with some chopped parsley sprinkled over. Or a smidge of paprika if you so fancy. A bit of some good cheese next to it wouldn’t be the worst thing. But I think it is amazing alone, a terrific meal all in itself.
This is exactly the kind of thing you want to be eating on a cold day, gearing up to do battle with an apartment threatening to engulf you. Which, as I recall, is exactly where we came in…