Sopa de Ajo / Aigo Bouido
L’aigo bouido sauvo la vido
One of the most basic ‘dishes’ of the cuisines of the Western Mediterranean is garlic soup. I put scare-quotes around the word dish
here because it is really more a family of dishes, with potentially an infinite number of variants bound together by shared use of a few of the most elemental ingredients and a couple of simple principles. Garlic soup is the quintessential poverty food. The Provençal saying -- l’aigo bouido sauvo la vido
, that is, ‘boiled water (i.e. garlic soup) saves life’ -- is taken by some as a reference just to the medicinal qualities the soup is believed to have but I believe it also refers to the soup’s old function as the last line of defence against hunger.
There are no more elemental ingredients than the ones that form the basis of garlic soup: water, garlic, stale bread and salt. The recipe is correspondingly simple: boil garlic in water and then pour the water and garlic over stale bread; add a pinch of salt if you have it. Of course, if one has more resources, one can embellish the dish. If you have olive oil, you can add a little at the end, drizzled onto the sops, or for a different flavour profile, you can gently fry the garlic in the oil before adding the water. And if you have some spices, certain of those can be added judiciously to enhance flavour – some black pepper or a little pimentón, as in Spain, or clove, as in Provence. When the time of year is right, one can add fresh herbs, with parsley predictably being the most basic choice, but others are regular additions in some places, such as the sage used in western Provence. Beyond these various ways to enhance the flavour, there are some further basic humble ingredients which can be introduced both to enhance flavour and to fortify the dish substantially; the meal becomes a small feast through the addition of eggs -- either to poach in the broth or to be beaten and stirred in – or through the addition of cheese, perhaps to adorn the slices of old bread.
But whatever one adds, it seems to me crucial always to bear in mind that this dish is first and foremost about water, garlic and stale bread.
I embrace all the better known, traditional varieties of garlic soup, from the dark Castilian version to the fragrant version of Aix, with its orange peel and fennel and cloves. But on most occasions, I make garlic soup in simple ways that reflect what I happen to have on hand at the moment. Here is a recent and particularly tasty version:
The basis: stale bread, its flavour enhanced through toasting.
The ‘broth’ was made with garlic and one serrano chile, all gently fried in my green Andalucian olive oil; to that were added salt, a small handful each of Italian parsley and cilantro, and finally an egg, which I let poach in the soup.
To finish this Mexicanised version of sopa de ajo
, I crumbled on a little queso cotija
from a piece (shown above) imported from Michoacan.
Very simple, very delicious and, even with the imported cotija
, very cheap.
Part Two to follow.
Links to other recipes and cooking notes by this writer: http://lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=55649#55649