Throughout Europe and beyond, garlic soup is a classic of frugal peasant cooking. Each soup here uses a whopping dose of garlic — two whole heads — but they won’t blow your head off. Garlic loses its raw sharpness as it cooks, gaining a deep, mellow, unmistakable flavor and aroma that, with Halloween upon us, is sure to keep vampires at bay.
High-quality garlic makes a difference. I tried these soups with Chinese-grown and American-grown garlic, but I much preferred locally grown from the farmer’s market for its full, robust flavor.
Provencal-Style Garlic Soup (Aigo Bouido)
Makes about 2 quarts
Some recipes call for thickening this soup with a mixture of egg yolk and oil, while others use potato. I’m in the latter camp. The Parmesan rind isn’t traditional, but I like the flavor boost it provides.
8 large sprigs fresh parsley, plus about 2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish, optional
8 large sprigs fresh thyme
1 small sprig fresh sage
2 bay leaves
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
1 2-inch piece Parmesan rind, plus about ½ cup grated Parmesan
2 full heads garlic (about 20 cloves), cloves separated and peeled, 1 small clove reserved
1 medium Yukon gold or all-purpose potato (8 ounces), peeled and cut into roughly ½-inch pieces
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing the baguette slices, if desired
Bias-cut slices of baguette (1 per diner), for serving
Place the parsley, thyme, sage, and bay leaves in a neat bundle and tie them together tightly with kitchen twine. In a large saucepan over high heat, bring the chicken broth, 1½ quarts water, Parmesan rind, garlic, potato, and herb bundle to a rapid boil. Adjust the heat to low, partially cover, and simmer until garlic and potato are very tender, about 25 minutes. Remove herb bundle and Parmesan rind.
In a blender, working in batches, puree the soup. Stop the blender and remove the center cap from the lid. With the blender running at medium speed, very slowly add half the oil and continue to blend with a kitchen towel over the opening until the mixture emulsifies and turns light golden. The consistency should be like half-and-half. Pour the soup into a bowl and repeat to puree the remaining mixture, adding the remaining oil as necessary to achieve the proper texture and color.
Return the soup to the pot, add 2 teaspoons salt, and heat over medium-low, stirring occasionally, to heat through. Adjust the seasoning with salt if necessary.
Meanwhile, toast the baguette slices and swipe one side of each several times with the reserved raw garlic clove. Brush with olive oil, if desired. Serve the soup at once in warmed soup bowls, garnishing each serving with a slice of baguette topped with about 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan and a light sprinkling of chopped parsley, if using.
TIP: EASY GARLIC PEELING
Spanish-Style Garlic Soup (Sopa de Ajo)
Makes about 2½ quarts
Serrano ham is a characteristic Spanish ingredient; you can use prosciutto, coppa, or sliced deli ham instead. Including ham or chorizo in the soup is typical in the Castilla-La Mancha region.
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 full heads garlic (about 20 cloves), cloves separated and peeled, 3 cloves pressed or grated and reserved, remaining cloves thinly sliced (about 2/3 cup)
3 ounces thin-sliced Serrano ham or prosciutto, chopped (about ¾ cup)
2 teaspoons paprika
12 ounces very stale, hearty French or Italian bread (not sourdough) or baguette, thick crusts removed if desired, cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 8 cups, lightly packed)
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
Salt and ground black pepper
1 or 2 large eggs per diner
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, mix 1/3 cup olive oil and sliced garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until garlic sizzles gently and turns very light gold and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the ham and continue to cook, stirring, about 1 minute longer. Add the paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring, for about 40 seconds. Add the bread and cook, stirring, until well coated with oil, about 2 minutes longer. Add the chicken broth and 1 quart water. Adjust heat to medium-high and bring to a strong simmer, scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen and dissolve the fond. Adjust heat to low, add the reserved pressed or grated garlic, ¾ teaspoon salt, and ground black pepper to taste, and stir to mix.
Use the back of a spoon to make indentations in the bread on the surface of the mixture to hold the eggs and, working quickly, crack one egg into each. Don’t be alarmed if they sink, but do try to keep track of their locations. Cover and cook until the egg whites are set and the yolks are warm and slightly thickened but still liquid, about 7 to 9 minutes (the longer time results in firmer yolks).
Using a slotted spoon and working carefully to avoid breaking the yolks, transfer the eggs to a plate. Add most of the parsley to the soup and stir to mix. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Ladle soup into warm serving bowls and gently place an egg or two in each bowl. Drizzle each serving with a little olive oil, sprinkle lightly with some of the remaining parsley, and serve at once.
Czech-Style Garlic Soup (Cesnecka)
Makes about 3½ quarts
1½ tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, chopped
1½ teaspoons caraway seeds
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons pressed or grated garlic (about 15 medium cloves)
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
3 medium Yukon gold or all-purpose potatoes (about 1½ pounds), peeled and cut into ¾-inch chunks (about 4 cups)
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
12 ounces hearty rye or whole wheat bread, thick crusts removed if desired, cut into ¾-inch cubes (about 8 cups, lightly packed), tossed with melted butter, and toasted in the oven until crisp, to make about 6 cups croutons
Coarsely grated Swiss cheese, about ¼ cup per diner
In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, caraway seeds, and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until the onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1½ minutes longer. Add the chicken broth and 1 quart water and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes, 1½ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste, return to a strong simmer, adjust the heat to low, and partially cover. Simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 18 minutes. If you prefer a slightly thicker soup, mash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot and stir them in. Add most of the parsley and stir. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
In each serving bowl, place about 2/3 cup croutons and about ¼ cup grated cheese. Ladle soup into the bowls, sprinkle each serving with some of the remaining parsley, and serve at once.