FRESH GARLIC SOUP BRISIGHELLA

FRESH GARLIC SOUP BRISIGHELLA
From The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (William Morrow, 1992). © 1992 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All rights reserved.

This cross between a soup and a creamy purée is as healthful as it is delicious. An old Romagna cure for colds, the soup has been fed to babies and the elderly for generations, especially in the hills of Brisighella, the spa town above Faenza.

Don't be put off by the amount of garlic. The soup is mellow and mild, yet full-flavored. It is one of my favorite dishes—easy to do and substantial enough to make a light supper main dish on its own.

Serves 4 as a first course or light supper and doubles easily

Soup

2 heads large-cloved garlic
4 cups water
2 small to medium onions, finely chopped
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 medium fresh sage leaves, or 6 small dried sage leaves
3 1/2 cups Quick Stock (recipe follows) or low-salt, reduced-fat canned chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Croutons

Four 1/2-inch-thick slices good-quality baguette-style bread
2/3 cup (about 3 ounces) shredded Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Working Ahead: The soup comes together quickly once the garlic has been peeled and boiled 10 minutes. This could be done 1 day ahead and the garlic refrigerated in a sealed container. The croutons can be prepared at the same time, then wrapped and stored at room temperature. Rewarm them in a 300°F oven 5 minutes. Make the soup itself, without puréeing, within 2 hours of serving. Reheat to a boil, purée and serve.

Preparing the Garlic: Separate the cloves from each head of garlic, but do not peel them. Bring the water to a rolling boil in a 2-quart saucepan. Drop in the garlic cloves and boil 10 minutes. Drain them in a sieve and peel. If you are using fresh green garlic, do not peel the cloves.

Making the Soup: Return the garlic cloves to the saucepan, and add the onion, olive oil, sage, and stock. Bring to a lively bubble over medium-high heat. Partially cover and cook 5 minutes. Uncover, adjust the heat so the liquid bubbles slowly, and cook another 5 minutes.

Making the Croutons: Preheat the broiler. While the soup is simmering, arrange the bread slices on a baking sheet. Toast them under the broiler 1 to 2 minutes per side, or until the slices are crisp and golden. Set aside a few spoonfuls of the cheese to top the soup. Sprinkle the rest over the bread slices. Slip the baking sheet back under the broiler only a second or two, to melt the cheese but not brown it. Keep warm.

Finishing and Serving: Have four soup dishes warming in a low oven. The garlic cloves will be meltingly soft when the soup finishes cooking. Remove all but 1 sage leaf, and purée the soup in a blender or food processor. Season to taste. Arrange the croutons in the soup dishes, and pour the purée over them. Sprinkle each serving with a few shreds of cheese, and serve immediately.

QUICK STOCK

From The Italian Country Table: Home Cooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (William Morrow, 1992). © 1992 by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. All rights reserved.

A practical solution for those days when you do not have time to make a long-simmered stock. This quick version uses canned broth, blunting its canned taste with aromatic vegetables and herbs.

Makes about 6 cups

1 medium onion
Four 14 1/2-ounce cans low-salt chicken broth, chilled
1 large stalk celery with leaves, coarsely chopped
1/2 large carrot, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions, unpeeled (trim away root ends), coarsely chopped
2 sprigs Italian parsley
1 large clove garlic, crushed
Generous pinch of dried basil
Working Ahead: You can hold Quick Stock, covered, in the refrigerator 3 to 4 days, or freeze it up to 3 months.

Making the Stock: Preheat the broiler, setting the oven rack as close as possible to the flame. Trim the root end from the first onion, but do not peel it. Cut it into 4 thick slices. Arrange them on a sheet of aluminum foil and slip it under the broiler. Broil 15 minutes, or until browned on both sides, turning once. Pour the broth into a 6-quart pot, and skim off the hardened fat. Add the broiled onion and all the remaining ingredients and cook 30 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, and strain the stock. Use it right away, or allow it to cool, and then cover and refrigerate or freeze.

LYNNE'S TIPS

Nothing equals the big, full flavor of true Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (vertical stenciling on the rind of "Parmigiano Reggiano" tells you this is the real thing). If it is not to be had, substitute Grana Padano or Asiago or domestic Vella Dry Jack. The American-made "Parmesans" and the nefarious contents of the "green can" are not substitutes. You deserve better.

When purchasing garlic you want bulbs with plump, firm cloves and dry skins. Pass up those showing sprouts or signs of shriveling. Store garlic in a dark, cool, well-ventilated place. Fresh, intact bulbs will keep well up to 6 weeks. Once the bulb is broken use the individual cloves within 5 to 7 days.

Fresh sage can be found in most supermarkets all year and is worth seeking out for this recipe. When using dried sage buy only whole leaf and check for freshness. The dried leaves lose their pungency after about 6 months.
THOUGHTS FROM LYNNE

Spending a Sunday in the kitchen making gifts is a lot more appealing than wrestling your way through the mall. Check out the website, splendidtable.org, for recipes, especially in the "Dessert" and "Accompaniments" sections. You'll find relishes, easy jarred fruit sauces and other concoctions begging for riffs on their basic formulas. These are the gifts you do now and give all season. What a deal!