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Garlic Soup (Aïgo Boulido)

Garlic Soup (Aïgo Boulido)
A variation of this soup runs through most of the alpine regions of France, including the Provençal Alps and the Pyrenees. In these areas, the high concentration of vitamin C present in garlic is looked upon by shepherds—and doting mothers—as a means of warding off winter's ills. Most rustic recipes simply call for stirring egg yolks into the finished soup. This version, with its whole poached eggs, comes from the departmental capital of Digne, long a stopping-off point for alpine tourists and well known for its thermal baths. The city lies on the famous road built by the Romans through Italy to northern France, a byway that later became la Route Napoléon.

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups water
  • 20 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 10 fresh sage leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 6 eggs
  • 12 croutons, made from dense
     sourdough bread and grilled (see Note)
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 6 Tbs. olive oil

Directions:

In a soup pot over high heat, combine the water, garlic and sage. Bring to a boil and boil until the garlic is soft, about 15 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, scoop out the sage and garlic. Discard the sage and mash the garlic with a fork. Return the garlic to the pot of water and season with salt and pepper.

Return the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so the liquid gently simmers. One at a time, break the eggs into a small bowl and slip into the simmering liquid. Cook until the whites are opaque and the yolks are soft and still liquid, about 2 minutes.

Place 2 croutons in the bottom of each of 6 wide soup bowls. Using a slotted spoon, quickly and carefully remove 1 egg at a time from the simmering soup and place 1 egg on the bread in each bowl. Top each egg with 2 ladlefuls of the soup, then sprinkle with the parsley, dividing evenly. Drizzle 1 Tbs. of the oil into each bowl and serve immediately, before the eggs cook any further. Serves 6.

Note: To grill croutons, rub bread pieces with garlic, if desired, and brush well with olive oil. Preheat a stovetop grill pan over medium-high heat, or prepare a fire in a grill. Grill the bread pieces on one side until lightly browned, about 1 minute. Rotate the pieces 45 degrees and continue grilling on the same side for about 1 minute more to create attractive grill marks. Turn and brown without rotating on the other side, about 1 minute more.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Provence, by Diane Holuigue (Time-Life Books, 2002).