Forty Cloves of Garlic Soup with Pistachio-Crusted Shrimp

Despite my family of garlic haters, I love garlic. And I love lots of it in all forms. A very close older family friend eats it raw and rubbed on toast, then spread with butter or rendered duck fat. It's now his daily health ritual since he learned garlic has been shown to keep the heart healthy and keep cancer at bay. Maybe he knows a thing or two, because he's going to be 90 next year. Sometimes I even indulge in a slice of garlic toast too. Though I try to keep the practice at a minimum because I don't want to go around smelling. Even so, almost all my cooking and the recipes on this site start with sautéing garlic. Garlic is just one of those vegetables that many people use and it crosses many cultural boundaries. It's a base flavor in Mediterranean, Asian, and North African cuisine. I have always wanted to use garlic for something more than just a base, instead a main ingredient.

A few weeks ago I had the idea of making garlic soup. With the chilly weather here in the Northeast, I was craving a warming and comforting soup packed with flavor. But when thinking about garlic soup, 'comforting' might not be the exact word that comes to mind for everybody. Most people hate garlic for its pungent taste and odor, but boiling it really tames its pungency. The garlic becomes mellow but still keeps all the wonderful properties of its unique flavor. Another bonus of this preparation is that there is much less smell after eating compared to sautéed garlic. Garlic haters might actually change their minds after eating this soup.

Unlike very thick puréed soups, this one is more of a broth. Adding pieces of bread to the soup is a great way to make it more hearty. Besides good crusty french bread, a good pairing for this soup is fried shrimp. Instead of breadcrumbs, I dredge the shrimp in chopped pistachios not only for their sweet nutty flavor but also for their crunchy texture. To serve the soup rather elegantly, I like to put a piece of bread in the bowl that I then pour over with soup. The bread island is just the right spot to lay a couple of shrimp. It makes for a beautiful presentation for a dinner party, but if it's just me, I'll put a couple more shrimp on top.

Forty Cloves of Garlic Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil
40 garlic cloves (about 2 heads), peeled
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
coarse sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
French bread or baguette
pistachio-crusted shrimp, recipe follows

Warm oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic and onion; sauté until onion begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add spices and toast for 2 minutes. Pour in chicken stock, bring to a boil, and simmer on low until garlic is tender, about 20 minutes.

Using a blender, purée the soup in batches until silky smooth. Return to heat and warm. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper. To serve, add a slice of bread to each bowl and ladle over with soup. Top bread platform with a few shrimp. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Pistachio-Crusted Shrimp

16 large shrimp, deveined and peeled with tails on
1/4 cup Wondra flour
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios, finely chopped
canola oil

Prepare a station for coating the shrimp. Combine flour and Cajun seasoning on a plate; season with salt and pepper. In a bowl, lightly beat the egg whites. Add the chopped pistachios to a plate. Pat dry shrimp before beginning. Coat each shrimp first with flour mixture. Then dip one by one into the egg whites. Finally coat the shrimp with chopped pistachios, making sure to press the shrimp into the nuts to coat all around.

Warm oil in a large saute pan set over medium-high heat. Once oil reaches smoking point, add the shrimp. Fry one minute per side. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Yield: 4 servings.