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On garlic, and matters of the heart

Passport & Plate - Cesnecka Soup in a Cumin Bread Bowl

Czech Republic | Friday, 6 March 2015 | 5 photos


Česnečka Soup

Česnečka is a potent, garlicky soup. The recipe varies from home to home, some adding cumin instead of caraway, and others preferring a salty broth to the thinner garlic broth. This recipe is the one shared with my girlfriend Ilona’s family.

Ingredients:

3 small potatoes, cubed
8 cups of water
3 heads of garlic
4 oz of edam cheese, cubed or grated
2 tablespoons of caraway
3 tablespoons of pork fat, about a cookie-sized dollop (or 1/3 stick of butter)
½ a yellow onion
a dash of marjoram
a few pinches of salt
a garnishing of parsley
a drizzle of olive oil

Directions:

1. In a pot, add a pinch of salt, and caraway seeds to the water and bring to a near boil.
2. Skin and cube the potatoes, and cook until soft (but not mushy!) in the seasoned water.
3. Crush 2 heads of garlic in a press, adding salt to the press chamber to allow the ingredients to merge.
4. Roast the other head of garlic in the oven by chopping off the top and drizzling the exposed cloves with olive oil. Wrap in foil and bake at 375 degrees for half an hour.
5. Heat the pork fat in a cast-iron pot, and sautee the garlic, onions and marjoram together.
6. When the potatoes and water are ready, add them to the garlic and onion pot. Allow this combination to simmer for a while. When roasted garlic is ready, extract the cloves and let them mellow in the broth.
7. When soup is ready, serve in a bread bowl. Add cheese and parsley as a garnish.

Cumin Bread Bowl

Ingredients:
1 of packet yeast
3 tablespoons of warm milk
2 teaspoons of salt
2 cups of warm water
A big pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons of cumin
5 cups of bread flour

Directions:
1. Combine water, sugar, and milk in a large cup, and test the yeast in this mixture.
2. Combine salt, cumin, and flour in a large bowl. Add the liquid ingredients to this mixture.
3. Mix the dough gently until it forms a ball, and let it rest for one hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5. Dust a baking sheet with flour, and form the dough into three even sized loaves on the cooking sheet. Allow these to rest for 20 minutes.
6. Bake loaves for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then reduce heat to 375 degrees for 20 more minutes.
7. When bread has cooled, cut off the tops, and scoop out the innards to make a vessel for the soup.

The Story Behind the Recipe

A romance, when stretched across an ocean, is deprived of its senses. The absence of companionship’s simple pleasures –the soft redolence of warm skin in the morning, or the warble of the woman you love as she brushes her teeth – demands surrogates, snapshots of memory to stand-in for lost indulgences. For me, the pungent jolt of česnečka, a Czech garlic soup, rekindles the heat from a summer evening spent with the woman I love along an oxbow bend of the Vlatava River. It’s a tonic I prepare to bridge the months when we are away from each other.

We met guiding luxury cycling vacations across Europe. After our days toiling on the bike, we toasted the evenings with our guests over haute cuisine from London to Vienna. In our months guiding together we feasted on everything: enigmatic, smoky fishes; fluffy Yorkshire puddings; and tart apricot brulees served in a dim castle hall. Those evenings were culinary tours de force, but over time my strongest craving was for the final moments of the meal when only the two of us were left at the table.

Its appropriate that my most treasured meal from my guiding career is a warm česnečka we shared in one of the few moments we could steal together alone. We finished a run to the riverbank through a mushroomed forest, and cooled in the river’s shallow water. Famished, we devoured two bread bowls of garlic soup on the grassy bank, watching the evening shadows trawl across the Česky Krumlov’s famous painted castle.

Česnečka is a clear soup that veils its piquant finish. Its garlic sting seems anathema to romance, the flavors and aromas linger until expunged by Listerine. Yet, its sharp permanence is precisely why I make it on evenings when I have spent too many days away from her. Its simple, bold complexion resonates that moment when our romance began: an appreciation for the simplicity of a beautiful day shared with someone you adore.

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