Friday, 9 December 2011

czech garlic soup

Česneková Polévka

Back in 2003, I went on a little road trip through Slovakia and the Czech Republic with my cousin (Jožko), his girlfriend (Miška) and his pal (Braňo). It was an awesome journey taking in Prague, Karlštejn, Hluboká, Tabor, České Budějovice (Budweis) and Český Krumlov, not to mention the ingestion of copious amounts of beer and wine and slivovica - as only people in their youth can do!

Since the crew were Slovaks, we often ate in tiny traditional restaurants that rarely saw foreigners. It meant I had fantastic guides who explained the indecipherable menu thoroughly which allowed me to try some seriously delicious, authentic, local food.

My favourite food memories were the Bryndzové halušky (Slovak potato gnocchi with a sheep’s cheese sauce), utopenec (Czech pickled sausages), smažený sýr (a crumbed cheese steak, like a schnitzel made entirely of cheese) and this wonderful garlic soup.

We were eating in a small sporting club, somewhere in Bohemia, and the little restaurant served this rich, clear garlic broth. It was cold outside so the broth was intensely warming.

But what really lifted the soup to dizzying heights was the discovery of melted cheese and smoky pieces of pork at the bottom of the bowl. Each mouthful was an oozing spoonful of molten cheese and garlicky broth. Perfect!

For these past 8 years I have thought of that soup so often. Now that I’ve made it, as part of my 2011 Food Challenges, I can honestly say my own version is an excellent tribute to the original experience.

Cook it, and you can experience the joys of Czech food too.

Česneková Polévka (Czech Garlic Soup)

Anna’s very own recipe. Serves 4 as an entree (starter).
We used Eumundi Smokehouse's
pork fillet

1 bulb garlic
1.5 litres chicken broth
Grated zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon marjoram leaves, picked over
300g peeled and cubed potatoes
50g smoked pork fillet, thinly julienned
125g edam, grated
Salt and pepper, to taste
Knob of butter, for frying
Teaspoon olive oil, for frying
A few extra marjoram leaves, for garnish
Crusty bread rolls, for serving

1. Peel the skin from all the garlic cloves and slice each into thin slithers.

2. Heat the butter and olive oil in a large pot then sauté garlic until very soft.

3. Add lemon zest and chicken stock, then bring to the boil.

4. Add salt and pepper, marjoram and potatoes. Boil for 8 minutes or until potatoes are soft.

5. Meanwhile, either in a large oven proof serving dish (or individual oven-proof serving bowls) spread the pork on the base and top with grated cheese. Grill for a few minutes until the cheese has completely melted. This way it sticks to the bottom of the dish when you add the soup.

6. When the potatoes are ready, taste the soup is seasoned properly, then ladle into the serving dish and sprinkle with a little more marjoram leaves. Eat immediately with crusty bread.

Note: If you can’t get hold of smoked pork, use a smoky ham. Also, you might be able to tell from the photos that I used thyme. Marjoram is the traditional ingredient; I just couldn’t find any that day! Thyme is a good substitute in a pinch.

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