While the thought of garlic soup may have many of you running for the hills, bear with me. I was a doubting Thomas too. While I adore garlic, I’m acutely aware of its ability to dominate and overpower dishes. Like truffle oil, a little goes a long way, especially when recipes require raw garlic. I tend to err on the side of caution and use a few less cloves than recommended. When it comes to raw, less is more.
It was with trepidation that I began making Julia Child’s garlic soup, known as ‘aïgo bouïdo’, which means ‘boiled water’ in Provençal dialect. The Mediterranean soup originates from Provence and was historically enjoyed as a starter on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, spring water was boiled with aromatic herbs like sage and thyme then poured over bread rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.
The soup is lauded for its health benefits, and is thought to be good for the liver, circulation and general wellbeing. So much so it inspired the phrase: “aïgo bouïdo sauvo la vido”, (boiled water saves your life). The beauty of the soup is that it’s incredibly easy to make from ingredients you’re likely to have to hand. It’s an ideal dinner party starter, as it’s sophisticated and intriguing, giving the impression that you’ve slaved over it for hours, when in fact it takes just half an hour to make.
Erring on the side of caution, rather than the 16 cloves of garlic Julia suggested, I opted for 12. In hindsight I wish I’d stuck with 16, as the garlic flavour ends up being so mellow, the soup could have easily carried the four extra cloves. All you have to do is boil the peeled cloves in three pints of water for half an hour with the following ingredients; a generous pinch of sage and thyme, two cloves, a bay leaf, four sprigs of parsley, three tablespoons of olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
While the soup is bubbling away, whisk three egg yolks until they’re thick and glossy. The next step is similar to making mayonnaise – add three tablespoons of olive oil into the whisked eggs drop by drop until the sauce starts to thicken. To prevent the eggs from scrambling, begin by adding a cupful of the soup into the egg mixture via a strainer to catch the cloves in. Then add more bit by bit.
There is a huge amount of flavour to be extracted from the cloves, so be sure to mash them up and pass as much as possible of that garlicky goodness through the strainer and into the soup. The broth is best served immediately. Mine paired marvellously with hot buttered olive ciabatta and an afternoon screening of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief, set on the French Riviera, starring an impossibly suave Cary Grant and a bewitchingly glamorous Grace Kelly.
Expecting something aggressively garlicky, it was the exact opposite – subtle, mellow and savoury, with wonderful aromatics from the herbs. The flavour is hard to define but impossible to forget. It was so tasty, I was tempted to do away with my spoon altogether and upend the entire bowl into my mouth. It was exactly as Julia described it: “exquisite and almost undefinable”, just how I like my men, though preferably with the charisma of Cary Grant to boot.