BEFORE YOU EAT YOUR FIRST SPOONFUL OF THIS RICH SOUP, STOP. LEAN OVER THE BOWL AND GENTLY INHALE THE INTENSE AROMA OF THE SPICES AND SALT COD. IT IS BEAUTIFUL, TRULY BEAUTIFUL. THIS DISH IS FOUND THROUGHOUT SPAIN, BUT THIS VERSION COMES FROM SIERRA DE FRANCIA. SALT COD IS UBIQUITOUS ACROSS THE NATION. DRY, HARD AND, ONCE UPON A TIME, CHEAP, IT WAS TRANSPORTED FROM THE COAST ON THE BACK OF MULES AND WAS THE PROTEIN OF CHOICE IN CATHOLIC SPAIN — A COUNTRY THAT HELD FAST TO THE CHURCH’S RULES ON FASTING. THIS SOUP IS THICK AND RUSTIC AND SHOULD BE CONSUMED WITH PLENTY OF BREAD AND TEMPRANILLO. IT IS ALSO GOOD WITH RUFETE, THE WINE INDIGENOUS TO THE REGION — IT IS LIKE TEMPRANILLO, BUT WITH A HINT OF FENNEL.
Drain the chickpeas and place in a large saucepan with the garlic bulb half, bay leaves, half the olive oil and the whole tomatoes. Cover with warm water and bring to the boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 1–1½ hours, or until the chickpeas are soft but not losing their skins. Remove and reserve the garlic and tomatoes, but discard the tomato skins.
Meanwhile, drain the salt cod. Using your fingers, remove and discard the bones, tough skin and any fins or dark flesh, then break the flesh into small pieces.
Toast the saffron in a small dry frying pan over medium heat for 90 seconds, or until the threads begin to darken. Remove the saffron from the pan, then add the cumin seeds and toast for another 90 seconds, or until fragrant. Leave to cool, then grind the spices using a large mortar and pestle. Squeeze the reserved cooked garlic cloves out of their skins and add to the mortar with the reserved tomatoes and the egg yolks and pound until a smooth paste forms. (If you don’t have a large mortar and pestle, grind the spices using a small one or a coffee grinder, then mix with the garlic, tomatoes and egg yolks in a food processor.)
Add the spice mixture, salt cod, sea salt and black pepper to the chickpeas. Mix well, stir in the shredded spinach and bring to a simmer.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the bread slice and unpeeled garlic cloves and cook the bread until golden on each side. Drain the bread and garlic cloves on paper towel. When cool enough to handle, peel the garlic and break the bread into small pieces. Place them both in a mortar with 2 tablespoons of liquid from the chickpea mixture and pound until a rough paste forms. Stir the mixture into the chickpeas and simmer for 3–4 minutes. Check the seasoning and serve in warm bowls.
© 2009 All rights reserved. Published by Murdoch Books.