Jan 292008

I have no problem admitting it: I am a garlic freak. It may well be the most perfect herb: flavorful, tangy, plentiful, and easy to store. I have yet to meet a recipe that has too much garlic in it, and when I was in Korea I ate the stuff raw by the clove. When I’m cooking I routinely add fourfold the garlic called for. What’s not to love?

Well, apparently there is something, since I said it was the most perfect, not the perfect herb. Let’s face it: it’s not too terribly difficult for good, well-intentioned garlic to go wrong. Garlic, even more than onions, can make you cry. They can pack remarkable heat into their little cloves, and if cooked improperly, you’ll know all about it.

Garlic, pre-poaching
Nikon D50

So when it came time for me to make a garlic soup (which is an idea I had been obsessing about ever since my husband bought me a garlic cookbook as a sussy), I was definitely looking for a recipe that would exploit the warm, earthy, comforting aspect of the humble clove, not the part that can make you wish that you’ve never been born. If I had ready access to Korean garlic that would not be a problem, since the stuff is sweet an delectable without any fuss or preparation beyond peeling it. But alas, all I have around me is American garlic. There had to be some way…

Well it turns out the that clever folks at Cook’s Illustrated had been wondering the same thing. They devised an ingenious method that used three different types of cooked garlic to give this soup an earthy pleasantness that pairs perfectly with the potatoes in the soup. My favorite by far is the poached garlic heads. Slow, long heat does wonderful things to garlic by stripping away the bitterly painful flavors, softening both texture and taste. So even though in this soup you are preparing garlic in three different ways, this recipe is wonderfully simple, uncomplicated, and well-balanced.

Comfort food, anyone?

Garlic, pre-poaching
Nikon D50

Garlic Potato Soup
From the March/April 2007 issue of Cook’s Illustrated
Serves 6

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and chopped small (about 1 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
2 heads garlic, rinsed, papery skins removed and top third of heads cut off and discarded
6 – 7 cups chicken stock (start with 6 cups and use extra cup to thin soup, if needed)
2 bay leaves
Table salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, (peel them if you don’t like the skins) cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 pound Red Bliss potatoes (unpeeled), cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup heavy cream or whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme leaves
Ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup minced fresh chives

For the garlic chips:

3 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium cloves garlic, sliced thinly lengthwise
Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add leeks and cook until soft (do not brown), 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add garlic heads, stock, bay leaves, and 3/4 teaspoon salt; partially cover pot and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and simmer until garlic is very tender when pierced with tip of knife, 30 to 40 minutes. Add potatoes and continue to simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaves. Remove garlic heads; using tongs or paper towels, squeeze garlic heads at root end until cloves slip out of their skins. Using fork, mash garlic to smooth paste in bowl.
Make the garlic chips by heating oil in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, throw in the garlic and cook, tossing constantly with tongs, until light golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, transfer garlic to plate lined with paper towels; discard oil. Sprinkle lightly with salt.
Stir cream or milk, thyme, and half of mashed garlic into soup; heat soup until hot, about 2 minutes. Taste soup; add remaining garlic paste if desired. Using immersion blender, process soup until creamy, with some potato chunks remaining. Alternatively, transfer 1 1/2 cups potatoes and 1 cup broth to blender or food processor and process until smooth. (Process more potatoes for thicker consistency.) Return puree to pot and stir to combine, adjusting consistency with more broth if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve, sprinkling each portion with chives and garlic chips.

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