I'm surprised that it's taken me this long to get around to cooking something by Julie Powell (and thereby, of course, Julia Child). I probably don't need to introduce Julie to you lot, but just in case there's a poor soul among my readers who hasn't discovered the side-splitting misadventures of Julie Powell as she cooked her way through Every Single Recipe In Mastering The Art of French Cooking, then stop reading this right now and head on over to settle in for a long day of catch-up.
Several months ago, Julie wrote an article in the NY Times Magazine about a temporary separation she and her husband Eric endured, and the cooking she did in those lonely days to keep herself distracted and fed. Like many of her former bleaders who had read her blog so devotedly they started to think that Julie was a close personal friend, I found myself shocked - just shocked! - that her marriage to her husband was on the rocks. After all, Eric had been just as much a part of the Julie/Julia Project as anything else. He washed dishes selflessly, he made spicy Tex-Mex when neither of them could look at another stick of butter, and he brought Julie to her senses when she wallowed a bit too long in self-pity.
Why, then, would this seemingly perfectly matched pair feel the need to take a break? I couldn't imagine Julie without Eric, perhaps just as Julia couldn't be imagined without Paul. The separation was long over by the time the article went to press, and I felt palpable relief when Julie assured her readers that she and Eric were back together. But the melancholy that Julie described about being alone after a long period of, well, not being alone, stayed with me.
Last night, I was at home by myself, with little appetite to speak of and no energy for grocery shopping. I'd have to make dinner with what was left in the house, and it was precious little, I knew. (Well, there was a full jar of this ridiculous stuff that I brought back from Berlin, but I hadn't stooped to the point where that'd be acceptable for dinner. There have been nights when that would be the case, but last night it wasn't. Thank God.) When I spied Julie's soup recipe, I knew that'd have to be it.
I filled a small pot with the requisite water and pinches of herbs and a spoonful of oil and before long the kitchen filled with a lushly aromatic scent. After the broth had steeped long enough, I drained the clear liquid into a clean pot and pressed all the creamy juice out of the garlic cloves, rendering the broth a milky white. The eggs I had were just two days old (fresh, fresh eggs are key here), and when I cracked them into the hot broth, the whites barely separated. After just a minute of poaching, I spooned the quivering egg and some broth into a bowl, grated Parmigiano on top and settled down to eat my one-bowl meal.
It was like the best-tasting medicine ever, medicine for heartbreak or disillusionment or depression or gluttony. It was warming and soothing, but nourishing, too. You know you're doing something good for your soul when you eat this soup. It wasn't necessarily pretty to look at (in fact, I hope you don't find the picture of that glowing orb of a yolk too gruesome - it was exceedingly difficult to photograph), but it had huge amounts of flavor. And maybe a little bit of magic, too.
Garlic Soup With Poached Eggs
Makes 6 servings
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried sage
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4 parsley sprigs
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 eggs, as needed
Chopped parsley, for garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Crusty bread, optional.
1. In a large saucepan, combine the garlic, salt, pepper, sage, thyme, bay leaf, parsley sprigs and olive oil. Add 2 quarts of water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil; then reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Pour through a fine-meshed strainer into a heatproof bowl, pressing on the garlic to squeeze out as much flavor into the broth as possible. Let cool and then transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until needed.
3. To prepare a serving for one, ladle about 1 1/3 cups of broth into a small saucepan. Place over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer. Carefully break an egg into the broth (do not break the yolk) and poach until the white is just set, about 1 ½ minutes. (It will continue to cook off the heat.) Transfer the egg to a soup bowl and pour the broth gently over it. Garnish with parsley and cheese. If desired, serve with crusty bread.