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Super soup


SATISFYING A traditional Castilian broth, garlic soup is much greater than the sum of its humble parts.


Redmond Cabot

Living out the country makes you an inventive cook. If you’re short of ingredients, you can’t just pop out to the shop without planning a journey, so you make do.
A forage around the store cupboard and there’s bound to be something for a tasty soup. A few tins of tomatoes, a bag of lentils, some onions and garlic and away you go! The base to many of the soups I make is onion, celery and carrot, chopped up and sweated in oil till soft. I use vegetable stock, half strength, or used-water from previously boiling veg.
I’ll make homemade meat stock if I have the time and ingredients, or use a cube or powder if I don’t. Whenever I roast a chicken, I’ll use the carcass to make the stock. Cook the bones up with three litres of water, an onion, a carrot, a couple of celery sticks, a bay leaf, a few sprigs of thyme and parsley and eight black peppercorns. Bring to the boil, then simmer for three hours before cooling and freezing for later use.
Unlike cake, soup is not an exact science. You can use whatever vegetables you have to hand and tweak your recipe as necessary. For example, take the tomatoes and lentils mentioned above. Sauté an onion, carrot and celery stick, a chilli and two cloves of garlic. Add a teaspoon or two of cumin seeds. Season with sea salt. Add one tin of chopped tomatoes, and cook for about four minutes. Add 200g red lentils and 1.2 litres of veg stock (play this by ear; you may need to use more). Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes. For extra umami flavor, add in a parmesan cheese rind (take it out before you blend). Keep tasting as you go along and adjust your seasoning until you get the flavour you like. Whizz with a hand blender, adjust seasoning and serve with chopped coriander.
On a recent terrible, horrible, no-good rainy day, I fancied something comforting for lunch. The cupboard was pretty bare, but I didn’t fancy an encounter with gnarled-up summer traffic. An exploration of the kitchen yielded some stale bread, a few eggs and a garlic bulb. And then a light bulb moment! Sopa de ajo, a delicious Spanish broth that the Brunette got a taste for when she lived in Madrid.

Sopa de ajo (garlic soup)
This is a satisfying soup made out of virtually nothing. A traditional Castilian broth, it is somehow much, much greater than the sum of its humble parts. Interestingly, it has a poached egg floating around in it, and it uses up yesterday’s stale bread! It’s important to use a robust bread; sourdough is good. You can get excellent, flavoursome bread from Becca’s Bakery in Westport. Patrick O’Reilly’s sourdough loaves are sublime, and they are available at Christy’s Harvest, Westport, or Café Rua, Castlebar.

What you need

  • 5 cloves of garlic
  • 250g stale bread
  • 100g Spanish Serrano ham, shredded (optional)
  • 1.5ltr of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 free range eggs
  • 50ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tspn Spanish sweet paprika
  • Seasoning
  • Splash of Spanish dry sherry or white wine (optional)

What you do
Slice the garlic cloves and sauté in olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Garlic burns easily, so go gently to avoid this.  
Slice the bread and cut it into strips. Sauté on a pan with the oil and garlic. Again, watch out for burning. If you’re using the ham, add it at this stage.
Add the sweet paprika. If you’re using the sherry, splash it in now and let it burn off. Pour in the stock. Bring to the boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Check the seasoning.
Then break each egg into the broth and poach for a couple of minutes. It’s best to leave the yolk runny. Serve in four warmed bowls, one egg per person. Buen provecho!

Red Cabot is interested in food, nature and small things. He sells his food at Westport Country Markets in St Anne’s Boxing Club, James’s Street car park, Westport, every Thursday, from 8am to 1pm.