Easy and fast to make, sopa de ajo started as simple peasant food but today is classic Spanish cuisine. (Photo/Betty Cortina)

How to make: Sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup)

Latin cooking is filled with dishes that started out as peasant food but have gone on to become classic culinary symbols of who we are and where we come from. Spain’s garlic soup—sopa de ajo—is one of those dishes. A few humble ingredients—garlic, paprika, day old bread, a poached egg—come together deliciously to make a soup that’s hearty in flavor and nourishment, yet light and easy to make.

Considered one of Spain’s ultimate comfort foods, sopa de ajo has long been used to help cure colds. (The peasants may have been peasants but they well understood what even the ancient Greeks, who fed garlic to their athletes before the Olympic games, knew: that this little white bulb has important medicinal powers.)

So on the heels of last week’s cooking (and eating!) marathon, and as the weather turns cold, paving the way for colds and the sniffles, here’s a fast-to-make and scrumptious antidote. Remember, the idea is to keep things simple. If you don’t have beef stock, replace it with chicken or vegetable stock. (In its original form, sopa de ajo was actually made with water!) And while you might be tempted to skip the poached egg, don’t; its runny yolk blends with the broth to make something lusciously silky. Taste it and you’ll be amazed at how just a few ingredients can create something so decadent.

Sopa de ajo (Spanish garlic soup)

2 T olive oil
8 slices day old French bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced very thinly
8 slices day old crusty bread, sliced 1/2 inch thick
2 teaspoons smoked, sweet paprika
A small pinch of saffron threads
4 cups unsalted beef broth
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
3 T white vinegar
4 poached eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 400.

2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Add the bread and cook for about 4 minutes, until lightly browned on both sides. Remove, place on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the oven, leaving it there for about 5 to 7 minutes until the bread toasts and gets crunchy. Set aside.

3. To the saucepan add the sliced garlic, paprika and saffron and a little more olive oil if the pan is looking dry. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes until the garlic is tender but not browned.

4. Add the broth, increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Reduce heat slightly and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, poach the eggs. Fill about 3/4 of a large saucepan with water. Add 3 T of white vinegar and large pinch of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat to low, allowing the water to simmer slightly, with only a few bubbles coming to the surface. Crack open the eggs, one by one, and gently drop them into the simmering water. Poach for about 2 minutes and 30 seconds to 3 minutes, just enough for the whites to coagulate and the yolks to remain runny. Using a slotted spoon, remove the eggs from the water and set aside.

6. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Add 4 of the toasted bread slices to the soup and simmer for 1 more minute.

7. To serve, place each of the poached eggs into a shallow and warmed ceramic bowl. Gently ladle the soup around the egg. Top each soup with the remaining toasted bread slices.

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