If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.
Today: Meet Spain's fluffy, pungent sopa de ajo, a peasant soup that will carry you through the last stretches of winter.
When winter persists, shooing us back towards our pantries and away from the outside world, we turn to peasant food: to beans, to porridge, to pasta. To cabbage, and potatoes, and cabbage and potatoes. To warm things that make the gnarliest of roots palatable and soften our hard, icy souls.
But you cannot look at another brassica. You've maxed out all of the combinations and permutations of cans in your cupboards. Your wooden spoon is permanently stained from Marcella's red sauce. You've become a resentful hybrid of an Italian nonna and a Polish babcia, and you're looking for a reincarnation, but spring isn't coming anytime soon.
To solve this problem, I suggest that you traipse through France, over some mountains, and into Spain, where abuelas everywhere are waiting for you with large, warming bowls of sopa de ajo. Garlic soup. Which sounds about as bare-bones and are-you-kidding-me as it gets, but is also alchemical in its transformation of ingredients. It is magic.
Grandmothers tend to receive most of the credit for the brilliance of peasant food, but sopa de ajo is more like an old Spanish man in its identity: It starts out very brash, with the biggest garlic cloves you've got, the stalest bread you can find, the smokiest paprika. It is yelling in public, cigarette in hand, gesticulating wildly. It is covered in olive oil. Its smell is pungent.
But, like even the roughest of codgers, this soup holds teddy bear potential. With a bit of coaxing, it relaxes and becomes soft. Add water and the bread puffs up, almost disintegrating, spreading all the flavor it has adopted back into its environs.
Spaniards use meat or poultry stock here, but I abstain from both, and instead use salty, bay leaf-infused water. The stock in your freezer is likely dwindling; I won't ask you to make more.
After a brief simmer, your pot will be full of wisps of bread, swimming in a broth tinted red from paprika and swirled, lava lamp-style, with olive oil. And then you will whisk in beaten eggs to turn everything fluffy and cloud-like, creating a cosmos of garlic specks and egg ribbons and bread mush. This will not remind you of the pantry soups that you've tired of; it creates and inhabits a genre all its own, revolutionary in its ability to comfort.
So suck it, winter. You stay as long as you like. We'll be over here, eating garlic soup while abuela dances the Flamenco.
2 generous tablespoons olive oil
8 large cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cubed, stale bread, crusts removed
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
6 cups water
2 teaspoons salt, plus more to taste
4 bay leaves (fresh ones are ideal, but dried is fine, too)
3 eggs, beaten well
Photos by Eric Moran