Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Spanish Saffron & Garlic Soup

Yesterday I had a friend ask me what saffron threads were. I was very surprised thinking that everyone MUST know this special herb. Although, it really is not an herb. I don't even know if it could be considered a spice. At any rate, it sits next to my other little bottles of spices and herbs. I use it at least once a week in my cooking. I often cook Spanish food. I explained to her that saffron are the little red stigmas of the saffron crocus flower. My husband use to live in Spain, and has traveled there several times since. I, much to my dismay, have never been there. Saffron has a distinctive smokey flavor that helps separate Spanish and many Middle Eastern foods.
It was in fact the Moors who brought saffron to Spain. Both Spain and Africa have fields of these special crocus that only bloom once a year. The stigmas are picked by hand, and then dried. This is why it is so expensive. The taste, however, is well worth having a small bottle in your cabinet.

My favorite Spanish cookbook is The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas. Here is an adaptation of a garlic soup from her book. In hers she uses eggs. I have not done that, and left it much like an onion soup with the bread on top.
Garlic Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
4 gloves garlic
4 slices French-style bread, in 1/4 inch slices
1 Tbsp paprika
4 cups beef broth
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon saffron
Heat the oil in a shallow casserole. Penelope says that Spanish earth ware is the best. Add the garlic cloves and cook until they are golden on both sides. Set aside. Add bread and fry until golden on both sides. Set those aside. Add the paprika, broth, cumin, and saffron. Return garlic to the soup. Smash them with a fork. Cook about 5 minutes. Arrange bread slices on top of the soup. Serve immediately.

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