>Castilian Garlic Soup

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King Alphonso XI of Castile hated garlic so much that, in 1330, he made it a statute of knighthood that if a knight were to eat it, he would not be allowed to appear before him for at least a month. The late king would be horrified to learn that one of Spain’s most beloved garlic dishes, Sopa de Ajo Castellana, is named for his province. This recipe for Castilian Garlic Soup is from The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins.

INGREDIENTS:
5 or 6 whole heads of garlic, the cloves separated and peeled (about 1 cup or 1/2 pound of peeled garlic cloves)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried red pepper

6 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup Spanish amontillado or oloroso sherry

A pinch of ground cumin

A pinch of saffron threads

Sea salt to taste

TO SERVE:

4 half-inch-thick slices of crusty bread
1 garlic clove

4 poached eggs (optional)

Freshly grated Manchego cheese (optional)

In a heavy soup kettle or a 2-quart saucepan , gently cook the garlic in the olive oil over low heat until the cloves are thoroughly softened, about 10 to 15 minutes. Do not let the cloves get brown. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Stir the red chili pepper into the hot oil in the pan, then add the stock and sherry. Bring to a simmer while you stir in the cumin and saffron. Use a fork to crush the tender garlic cloves to a paste into the soup. Taste and add salt if necessary. Cover the soup and leave to simmer very gently for about 15 minutes.

While the soup cooks, toast the bread slices. Cut the garlic clove in half and rub over the toasted slices. If you want to add an egg to each serving, poach the eggs gently in simmering acidulated water (water to which a couple of spoonfuls of white vinegar have been added), remove with a slotted spoon when done to taste, and drain on paper towels.

Serve the soup as is, hot from the pot, floating a slice of garlicky toast on each serving. If you wish, add a poached egg and sprinkle of grated cheese. When you eat the soup, break the egg and stir it and the cheese into the hot soup.

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