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Spanish Garlic Soup
by Charlie Burke

My wife, Joanne, lived in Spain for six years while her father, a Navy officer,
was stationed in Barcelona and Rhoda. She returned with me years ago, along
with her mother and brother, John, and our sons, Kevin and Michael, for a visit
that took us to Madrid, Toledo and many small villages throughout western
and southern Spain.

We recall many meals, but one dinner in an ancient restaurant in Madrid
stands out because we were served a wonderful garlic soup. This, like many
peasant meals in Italy, France and Spain, consisted of humble ingredients
combined to provide sustenance to folks living close to the land; now they find
their way into trendy restaurants where their honest taste and heritage win
over diners and food critics alike.

I must confess that, although I thought I could make this soup from memory, I
checked out a couple of Spanish cook books and checked the Internet for
recipes for garlic soup. Most used beef or chicken stock and added peppers,
squash and other vegetables, along with cheese and other ingredients I did not
recall in the soup we had in Madrid.

I believe the most authentic recipes use only a few, simple ingredients. The
first, of course, is garlic. The hard neck garlic we grew last year is reaching the
end of its shelf life, so we were glad to use it for this meal. The other
ingredient which is important is paprika. Hungarian paprika is widely
available and is excellent, but Spain produces smoked paprika which really
adds to this recipe. We have used “La Chinata” brand, but an Internet search
will yield other brands of smoked paprika, as well.

Saffron also is important to this soup, and, although expensive, a small pinch
is all that is required. I am sure Spanish women foraged for the crocus which
produces saffron and harvested these flowers so that they could include this
great ingredient in their family’s meals. Small vials can be bought in grocery
stores, and a small amount goes a long way. Larger amounts of higher quality
saffron can also be found on the Internet.

For four servings:

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
6 – 8 whole garlic cloves
1 tablespoon Spanish smoked paprika or Hungarian paprika
4 slices crusty bread, sliced ½ inch thick
6 cups water
½ teaspoon cumin
1 pinch saffron
Sea salt
4 eggs

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. In a sauté pan or shallow casserole heat half the
oil over medium heat. Cook garlic cloves until lightly browned and soft.
Remove garlic from pan, add bread slices and cook until golden brown on
both sides. Remove bread slices. Add remaining oil and heat paprika and
cumin in the oil until fragrant. Add water and saffron and bring to a boil.
Crush garlic cloves, add to the broth and simmer for 10 minutes. Add salt to
taste. Because few ingredients are used in this soup, salt is an essential
ingredient and using sea salt does make a difference.

To serve, divide broth into individual oven proof bowls or finish the cooking
in the casserole.  Break the eggs into the broth and add the bread slices. Place
into the preheated oven and cook for 4 minutes or until the eggs are set. Serve
immediately and enjoy the harmony of the basic ingredients in this ancient
Spanish tradition.  

An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the vice president of
the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association ( and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
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