What gazpacho is to Andalusia, sopa de ajo is to the plains of Castile and La Mancha—a dish that started life as a poor man’s porridge but that’s gone on to achieve status as the region’s gastronomic symbol. Garlic, bread, smoky paprika, jamón, poached egg, and olive oil (which has replaced the more traditional lard) team up to produce a boldly flavored and quintessentially Spanish potage filling enough for a one-bowl meal.
Tradition dictates that the soup be presented in individual earthenware cazuelas; if you don’t have these, use nicely rustic ceramic bowls or crocks.
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 6 tablespoons fragrant extra-virgin olive oil, or more if needed
- 10 medium-size garlic cloves, 6 sliced and 4 crushed with a garlic press
- 1 piece (4 ounces) serrano ham or prosciutto, finely diced
- 3 slices ( ½ inch thick) day-old dense country bread without crusts, from a medium-size round loaf, cut into 1½-inch squares
- 2 teaspoons smoked sweet Spanish paprika
- 5 cups chicken stock or broth
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 Poached Eggs
- 4 teaspoons finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional), for garnish
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart saucepan over low heat.Add the sliced garlic and the ham and cook, stirring, until the garlic is very fragrant but not browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the bread and cook, stirring to coat the bread with oil, 2 to 3 minutes, adding a little more olive oil if the pan looks dry. Off the heat, sprinkle in the paprika, and toss the bread well to coat it evenly. Return the pan to the heat, add the stock, increase the heat to medium, and simmer until the bread swells but still holds its shape, about 7 minutes.
- Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste, add the crushed garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Ladle the soup into four warmed soup crocks or ceramic bowls. Using a slotted spoon, transfer a poached egg to each soup bowl and garnish with parsley, if desired. Serve at once. To eat, break the poached egg, stirring the yolk into the soup; the egg will cook slightly from the heat and thicken the broth.