A surprising soup, a great preservative against winter colds.
1 head garlic (about 16 nice fat cloves)
3 pts water (some of which may be replaced by light stock)
2 tsp salt
pepper, thyme, bay leaf, a few parsley or celery leaves
3 tbs olive oil
3/4 lb waxy potatoes
Separate the head of garlic and drop the whole, unpeeled cloves into a pan of boiling water, boil for 30 seconds, then drain and refresh under cold running water. The skins should now slip off easily.
Put all the ingredients except the potatoes and saffron into a large pan and boil slowly for half an hour. Peel the potatoes and cut into neat dice about 1/4 inch square. Add to the soup with as much saffron as you can afford (well, it should be plenty — the rest of the ingredients didn’t exactly cost a fortune), and continue to cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 mins. Taste and season if necessary. Serve in wide white bowls, with French bread. If you are feeling ultra-refined, and/or you don’t want your guests to know what the principal ingredient is (honestly, it’s hard to tell!), you can remove the garlic cloves. But if you eat them, you will find they are quite mild. The soup is beautiful — a clear gold, with drops of olive oil and strands of saffron sparkling in it.
There is an alternative, more robust, and more traditional way of finishing the soup. Instead of the saffron and potatoes, beat three egg yolks in a warm soup tureen and gradually add 2-3 tbs olive oil, as if you were making mayonnaise. After the soup has cooked for half an hour, beat a ladleful into the egg yolks, and then strain in the rest through a sieve, stirring the soup continuously and pressing the juice out of the garlic. Serve immediately — a kind of hot, liquid aioli.