Whenever I feel the need to laugh or share a smile, I pick up my mobile and text my friends. Our exchanges are filled with wacky updates, snarky attitudes and silly responses. One day, I’m going to publish these texts into a photo album and call it Words with Friends. But that’s an idea for another day.
Today, my thoughts and palate are focused on my friend Emilio, who shares his recipe for Caldo Gallego, the historic hearty soup from the hills of Spain. Emilio and I were texting about food and memories, and he shared that during his childhood, he refused to eat caldo gallego. His great aunt (who immigrated from Spain to D.C.) would spend hours in the kitchen tending to the soup, and when it was ready, she would call him in from playing in the street. Like most kids, Emilio would squeamishly refuse to eat anything made with spinach and frowned at the sight of tender meat falling off a ham bone. I smiled when I learned this, because at one point in my childhood, I refused to eat sushi. The reply Emilio sent me had me howling with laughter.
Thankfully, tastebuds mature and change with our bodies, and Emilio and I are no exception to this. By recalling the memory, Emilio found himself longing for the soup – made with creamy potatoes, salty pork and earthy spinach – and decided to re-create it in his kitchen. It seems the best memories make the best recipes; I’m so thankful Emilio is willing to share his recipe here.
This soup comes together easily in one pot. If you have a pressure cooker, you can make it (from the dry beans to boiling the ham hock) in less than an hour. However, if you want to cook it traditionally on the stovetop, Emilio’s tips and instructions guide you through the process. When I made the soup, I savored all the wonderful aromas that filled the house. I also decided to use fingerling potatoes, left whole, instead of dicing them up. Emilio called that an “interesting twist” but it’s up to you to decide how hearty you want your soup to be.
I lift a bowl to celebrate Spain’s glorious Euro Cup win, but mostly, to celebrate my friend, the laughter and all the fun — I’m so grateful for our phone calls and text messages when we’re apart.
by Emilio Rouco
Makes 4-6 servings
For the Rostrido (a traditional Spanish sauce which adds flavor to soup):
3-4 Tablespoons olive oil – enough to fry garlic
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp paprika (sweet, Spanish paprika is best)
¼ cup white wine (optional)
- In a frying pan with olive oil, gently fry sliced garlic until lightly golden brown (be vigilant, as garlic burns very easily).
- Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a minute or two – then mix in the sweet paprika – the cooling off period is important, if you don’t do it the paprika will burn.
Emilio’s Note: Stick to Spanish paprika for this, it’s way better than the Hungarian variety. Stir until well blended. At this point you can remove the sauce from the heat or you can add the optional white wine. If you add the wine, leave the sauce on heat and simmer gently until wine is completely evaporated.
For the Soup:
1 lb medium dry white beans (you may substitute 2 cans of beans for a quicker recipe)
2 1/2 quarts water
1/2 lb salt pork, cubed*
2 smoked ham hocks
6 small white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 bunch fresh spinach
4 Spanish chorizo sausage
Salt, if needed
* Cubing the salt pork is optional.
Emilio’s Note: Salt pork can be a wee bit too ‘real’ for some. It’s fatty. I recommend NOT cubing it. Rather, remove skin and discard. Throw salt pork in whole then remove and discard when soup is done. You can also substitute ½ lbs of bacon, whole, not sliced, for the salt pork.
To Make the Soup:
- Rinse beans, cover with 6 cups of water and soak overnight. (If using canned beans, simply rinse and drain and place beans in a large pot with 6 cups water).
- When beans are ready to cook, add additional 1 quart water with the salt pork and ham bone.
- Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer about 2.5 hours or until beans are tender (if using canned beans, simmer for about an hour).
- Add potatoes and Rostrido sauce. Simmer an additional 20 minutes.
- Slice chorizo into 1-inch pieces. Add chorizo and spinach to beans and cook ten minutes more. Taste and add salt (if needed). If the soup is too salty, add additional water.Remove salt pork and discard (if using bacon, remove it). Remove ham hocks. Cut meat from ham bones, discard bones and return meat to stew. Serve in soup bowls with buttered, crusty bread.
Emilio’s Note: The taste and consistency improves if the soup is allowed to rest, partially covered, for a few hours before serving.