Thursday, 17 January 2013
Sopa de ajo
That's garlic soup, very much with a Spanish twist. And while it's true that the old woman cooking eggs in Velázquez's pungent early bodegón (painting with still-life ingredients) is frying them in a substantial amount of olive oil rather than poaching them in a soup-mix, the atmosphere is right for this fabulous recipe - as Sam and Sam Clark note in their seminal Moro cookbook.
I've never dined at Moro, but I love this book and its stylish layout. It's yielded firm favourites like baba ghanoush - the muhammara with which I usually accompany that as a starter is to be found in Claudia Roden's even chunkier Book of Jewish Food - and a few one-off fish and meat dishes. This, though, seems to have garnered the biggest raves and is a fine staple in these cold winter days.
It's so simple to prepare yet satisfying in the contact with its main ingredients: you fry the cloves of three or four garlic bulbs with their skins on for about 20 minutes and then squeeze out the flesh almost as paste (in fact you can purée them or leave them as they are). Fry chorizo, add the garlic with thyme leaves and smoked paprika and then one litre (probably two is better) of good chicken stock (better the tubs from Waitrose than melting stock cubes). Once properly simmered, you add toasted sourdough/ciabatta bread and throw in an egg to poach for each of your guests (given a large number, I downsized from hens' to quails' eggs).
J and I first had sopa de ajo in Asturias, travelling to the town of Cangas de Onis at the foot of the Cantabrian mountains. Both of us had stinking colds - it rains a lot in northern Spain - but were determined to carry on walking, and this soup was sheer balm. Our friend Florian cooks an Austrian garlic soup, Knoblauchcremesuppe, which I love, but this one is better, of course, for the lactose intolerant or the sinusitis-plagued like myself.
Anyone else crazy about garlic, pictured above in a detail I took from another Velázquez bodegón, Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary? I was obsessed about the noble bulbs to the point of unsociability at university, eating raw cloves when I had a heavy cold (never again). In San Francisco, I was tickled to discover the Stinking Rose restaurant, the motto of which is 'we flavour our garlic with food'. The garlic ice-cream to finish, needless to say, was not as successful as the rest. Anyway, our visit was poorly timed, as we were catching the plane home later that afternoon, and boy did we stink. I think the virtue of cooking the garlic in this recipe is that you don't stink much, as far as I can tell. ¡Buen apetito!
Food features amusingly - I can think of no better segue - in Two Days in Paris, starring and directed by the hugely talented Julie Delpy. She does a neurotic, pacy double act with Adam Goldberg that reminds me of early Woody Allen with Diane Keaton; though while our Woody has so gone off the boil as to treat Paris and other European cities like one big tourist cliché, Delpy avoids the obvious sightseeing highlights (Goldberg's Jack wants to see Père Lachaise and the Catacombs) and undermines the isn't-Paris-romantic adage.
We wept with laughter at the scenes with the cat ('my father calls him "Eat-Shit-Sleep" ' - no doubt sounds even pithier in the French), the cooked rabbit, the eccentric father scratching cars as he wanders down a posh street, volatile maman coyly confiding her racy past; all the more astonished am I to learn that the actors playing these two are Delpy's own parents. As J said, it's an insight into hetty love life, I would add with sometimes more information than you want - Allen and Keaton couldn't have got away with this level of frankness in the 1970s - and I only wish there were a gay romcom on the same level (though Andrew Haigh's real and true Weekend, admittedly not a comedy, is in a class of its own). I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't find Two Days in Paris hysterically funny; fail to laugh uncontrollably, and I guarantee you your money back.