On returning from Labuan (a neighbouring duty-free island with an IMPRESSIVE selection of single malts) with a Caol Ila and Smokehead, the challenge was set to concoct a dinner suitably complimented by a wee dram. Faced with a fridge full of Asian foodstuffs and not a haggis in sight I was stumped, until the mountain of garlic on the rack caught my eye – sopa de ajo. A Castillian inspired soup of garlic. You’ll be surprised at just how wonderful this simple yet tasty peasant dish using garlic, stale bread, paprika and an egg (to be dropped in at the last minute to poach in the soup) is. The robust flavours and underlying earthy smokiness of paprika is the perfect match for the smoky peatiness of the whisky.
I never do things by halves so grabbed four heads. Yes, four. Don’t be scared off as three of the heads are slow roasted, which gives the garlic a beautiful mellow flavour. As strange as it sounds, this soup isn’t as garlicky as you would expect. It’s simple to make, comforting and warming, and as an added bonus it’s the ideal remedy for combating the first signs of a cold (especially if drunk with whisky) – though if you are a vampire, are on a first date or don’t like garlic perhaps it is better to steer clear of this soup. I always drop an egg in to lightly poach in the spicy broth. You can’t go wrong with sprinkling on a handful of garlic croutons or serving it up with a couple of slices of toasted baguette rubbed with a yet another clove of garlic and olive oil.
RECIPE: SOPA DE AJO
Five heads of garlic
A sprig of thyme or rosemary
A heaped tablespoon of paprika
A teaspooon of tomato puree
A couple of teaspoons of cayenne pepper or a large dried chilli
2 slices of stale baguette with crusts removed
A couple of tablespoons olive oil
A sprinkling of salt
A grinding of pepper
INSTRUCTIONS: Cut the root off the heads of garlic near the base. Remove the loose skin from four heads and rub with olive oil. Roast in a medium oven with a sprig of thyme or rosemary for half an hour until soft and caramelised. You should be able to squeeze the cloves out using your thumb and forefinger and squash them with the side of a knife blade to a paste. Slice up the other cloves (it’s easy to peel a head of garlic if the root is cut off as the skin comes away easily if you rub the cloves between your fingers) and fry until they are just starting to catch colour in two tablespoons of olive oil. Add the paprika, cayenne or chilli, roasted garlic ‘paste’, tomato puree and water (use chicken or vegetable stock if you prefer). Tear up the bread into bite-sized chunks and add to the soup. Simmer for ten minutes or longer if you prefer it thicker and season well.
You can serve the soup rustic and chunky or whizz it in a blender for a smoother consistency. Break an egg into a teacup and gently tip it into the soup and simmer for a couple of minutes. You need to be careful when ladling the soup into serving bowl that you don’t break the eggs. Alternatively, you could poach the eggs separately and add them to the soup or serve the soup in ovenproof bowl, breaking an egg into each and popping them into the oven for five minutes. Drizzle the soup with olive oil, pour out a wee dram and enjoy.