Sopa de Ajo: Un Experimento

26 Aug

My roommate spent a rollicking semester in Spain last spring, so while I was floundering around at 2011’s Dance Marathon or writing an 11-page paper on the merits of friendship in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ben was out until 2 a.m. sampling apple ciders or at Tenerife’s Carnival. We both grew as college sophomores do, but our culinary ambitions did not dull under curriculum or travel fatigue.

Move in was a progression of electronic espresso, wafflemakers, vanilla bean test tubes, and basil-infused olive oils. He’s a science major, and I’m just a mad scientist. So, dorm cooking is not ramen noodles. James Bond, meet James Beard.

The most recent experimentation involved a soup that Ben learned while in San Sebastian, the northeastern corner of Spain. I had Literature for Adolescents while he was taking Basque cooking. This concoction, know there as “sopa de ajo,” may be one way I’m going to dispose of leftovers. Like garbage pizza or kitchen sink casserole, sopa de ajo owes to tossing staples together.

We started with a lake of olive oil in a saucepan, and on top of the heated oil, I maimed and shoved in some torn bread cubes. The more stale the bread is (ours was a Trader Joe’s garlic and parmesan loaf about as hard as a diving board), the better off the soup will be. That’s foreshadowing.

Once the bread browns a little, Ben cleaved and smeared two garlic cloves into the cauldron. Two cans of chicken stock, a Irene rainstorm of kosher salt, and some sherry cooking wine, and next thing I know, there’s a soup on my range.

Courtesy of The New YorkerPutting in cayenne pepper felt like I was fencing-stab-back back-stab-back back.

This mixture reduces for 14 minutes, and in the meantime, eggs (a chemist’s favorite thing to tamper with), come into the potion making. There are many ways to make eggs (I’m in favor of Thomas Keller’s deep-pot poaching he writes about in The French Laundry Cookbook), but for this bread and garlic-disposal soup,  Ben says there are two ways.

“The poor people in San Sebastian just mix it in. It gets slimy like Chinese egg-drop soup,” Ben explained, “The fancy folks like to just straight up poach the egg on top and serve it like that.”

The solution seemed obvious; the execution, well, was like a stubborn guillotine. These eggs were very resistant to meshing with the soup. I formed pockets for the egg to cook in, but no avail. They’d have to melt in the mixture.

The final result looks like a porridge. I often feel like dorm life is a modified, Charlestonian version of Oliver. I lived on a community-style floor freshman year, and it was a collection of characters, our version of The Simpsons. Lonely bassoon players, frat boys, and eccentric painters: all of us were in the Honors College together, and were self-autonomous. We were all orphans there, and for this reason, I’ve kept an image of the Artful Dodger on my door since then.

Sopa de Ajo is now a meal that makes me think about the days in Buist Hall, wandering up and down the hallway. The thick texture of the “gruel” and the sharp tastes constantly reminded me of the opening scene from Oliver.

Like those kids, I’ve been surprised and but sometimes disappointed with what’s happened here. Nevertheless, like the famous lead, I come back wanting more.

But I’ll stick to one serving of soup.

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