Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Forest of Greens In Every Yard: Caldo Gallego

Delicioso!Nearly every bar, restaurant, hotel, inn, and whatnot along the pilgrim trail to Santiago serves up a Menu Peregrino, a Pilgrim Meal. It's cheap as chips, three courses, and includes bread and wine. Lots of wine. Usually bottles of wine. Oh, the wine! Anyway. At nearly every place we stopped, I was offered and I greedily accepted a hot bowl of Caldo Gallego. Brothy, with greens and potatoes, and often nothing else that was identifiable, it still stood up to a tired pilgrim's appetite, especially when said pilgrim dunked in some bread. Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain offers up this version:
Caldo Gallego
(Galician Meat, Potato, Greens, and Bean Soup)

Start preparation 1 day in advance
There is remarkably little variation from one cook to the next in the preparation of Caldo Gallego, the famous soup that has traveled the world with Galician émigrés. Only one ingredient, chorizo, is a point of contention. Purists reject it, yet many traditional recipes include it; it does, in fact, produce a richer, more flavorful soup. The kinds of greens may also vary, although grelos—closely akin to collard greens—are most typical. Caldo Gallego is hearty enough to be a meal, but you may choose to serve it in smaller portions as a first course or as an accompaniment to a light supper.

Serves 4-6

½ pound medium dried white beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon imported sweet paprika
7 cups water
1 pound boneless beef chuck
1 beef or ham bone
¼ pound Spanish mountain cured ham, prosciutto, or capicollo, in a thick chunk
A 2-ounce piece slab bacon or salt pork
1 leek, well washed
½ pound collard greens, Swiss chard, or kale, thick stems trimmed and coarsely chopped (about 4 cups)
¾ pound small (about 2-inch diameter) new or waxy red potatoes, peeled
¼ pound sweet chorizo

Soak the beans overnight in water to cover. Drain.

In a small skillet, heat the oil and garlic and sauté a minute (the garlic should not color). Turn off the flame and add the paprika. Stir in a tablespoon or two of water.

Add to a soup pot the water, beans, beef, bone, ham, slab bacon, leek, and garlic mixture from the skillet. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer about 2 hours, or until the beans are almost tender.
Add the greens, potatoes, chorizo, and salt to taste, cover and continue cooking until the potatoes are done, about 30 minutes.

Remove and cut up the beef, ham, bacon, leek, and chorizo and return to the pot. Discard the bone. Cover and let sit 10 minutes before serving. Reheat if necessary.

I don't remember ever seeing potatoes in my caldo, nor often any beans. It's peasant food, and as such lends itself easily to whatever you have on hand. If you have chorizo one day, add it. If not, don't do a run to Whole Foods, just go without.

I wouldn't get too precious about the kind of greens you use, either. Grelos, mentioned above, are turnip greens. You could use 'em, sure. You could use collard greens, or kale, or chard... Use what you have, or the first thing you lay hands on.

Gallego greens garden, photo by Wendy A F G Stengel, some rights reserved

Just about every home we passed on the Camino had a yard filled with greens. Big, waist- or chest-high primeval stalks. When it was time to make the caldo, they'd step outside, cut a few leaves off with their kitchen knives, and they were ready to go.

I'd file this away under "deceptively simple." It doesn't sound like much in the writing up, it doesn't look like much in the bowl, but mercy me, it's a damned fine bowl of soup.

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