Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells

Last week my dear friend Helen was in town and she came over for dinner.

“What do you want to eat,” I had asked her, in preparation.

“Something that you can write about for your blog, of course,” she responded.

Helen is a vegetarian. She is also British, which means she  grew up eating things like bangers and cottage pie and other euphemisms for … well, let’s not go there. In any case, I’d meant to ask Helen why and when she became a vegetarian but I forgot. I suppose it was because she grew up eating bangers.

In any case, the morning of her visit was cold and wet so I decided to make Martha Rose Shulman’s Rich Garlic Soup with Spinach and Pasta Shells for dinner.

I left the cookbook on the counter, opened to that page, while I started peeling the garlic. The Professor raised an eyebrow when he glanced at the recipe, but I pointed to Shulman’s words and repeated them: “It’s a meal in a bowl.”

“OK,” he replied, still skeptical.

The results were mixed.

For a meatless, creamless soup, the broth really was quite tasty and rich, thanks to the addition of four egg yolks. “It tastes good,” The Professor said. “Though I’d still call it subtle.

Subtle! It has damn near thirty cloves of garlic in it! I thought to myself, and turned my attention to Helen.

But The Professor continued his critique. The soup’s main flaw, to his mind, was the toasted bread, which the recipe calls for putting in the bottom of the bowl, sprinkling with grated Gruyere, and then topping with the hot soup. Inevitably, the bread turns mushy, and The Professor can’t abide mushy.

At the end of the meal, The Professor offered his conclusion: “I guess it’s filling … if you eat enough of it. But a meal in a bowl it is not!”

I think the soup is worth trying again — with the bread simply sliced for dunking into the soup, or cubed for sprinkling on top.

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