Published with permission from LuxuryWeb.com
In the heart of winter, Caldo Gallego, a traditional soup from Spain offers a nourishing escape from cold days and even frostier nights. While variations abound from one kitchen to the next — echoing its close relative the Portuguese caldo verde — the soul of this dish remains constant and embodies the essence of a hearty and comforting stew.
Prepared primarily during the cooler months, its robust ingredients include a blend of leafy greens such as collard or turnip, alongside potatoes, white beans, lard, and an assortment of preserved pork like chorizo sausage, thick smoked bacon, or smoked ham hocks — sometimes using all three.
This dish springs from modest beginnings — deeply rooted in the lives of Spanish farmers sustained by their land’s yield. Caldo Gallego is best enjoyed hot, a practice I firmly endorse, and in my experience, its flavors deepen delightfully when reheated on the following day.
Let’s delve into a recipe made by my friends, the Barcenas family:
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- 2 cups dry Cannellini beans (Judias Blancas)
- 3 smoked ham hocks, scored or bone-in smoked ham or thick slices of air-dried salted ham
- 1 ½ whole square salt pork or smoked thick bacon
- 2 Spanish Chorizo sausages
- 1 lb. pork or beef stew meat (optional)
- 5 small or 3 large russet potatoes
- 1 lb. mixed and shredded Collard Greens and Turnip Greens
- 1 whole onion, minced
- 1 whole bell pepper, minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large tomato, grated or one 8 oz. can of stewed tomatoes (optional)
- 2 teaspoons smokey paprika (Las Hermanas Pimenton de la Vera Agridulce recommended)
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 laurel leaves
- 2 teaspoons salt, to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Commence by rehydrating the beans and ham hocks overnight in a large cast iron pot filled with water. The following day, discard the water, and give the beans and ham hocks a thorough rinse. Parboil the ham hocks for 30 minutes in a separate pot, then rinse again to remove excess salt.
In a pot, unite the ham hocks and beans, add the stew meat if using, cover with water, and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer for an hour, then turn off the heat and let it cool for later steps.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables and potatoes by peeling, cutting, and immersing them in vinegar or lemon water to prevent browning. Wash and shred the greens, and prepare the chorizo, garlic, bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, and spices.
For the sofrito (a sautéed medley of onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and garlic), warm a generous amount of olive oil and cook the chorizo slices until they release their fat. Add the onions and bell peppers, cooking until caramelized. Incorporate the garlic, followed by the tomato, and then bring the mixture to a boil before adding it to the stew. Stir in the paprika, cumin, laurel leaves, and extra salt if needed, along with the potatoes, cooking until they begin to soften.
Add the shredded greens to the stew, cooking just until wilted before turning off the heat. Debone the ham hocks and chop into pieces, or leave whole to serve as a centerpiece in the stew.
For the salted pork, render it in a pan until crispy, then incorporate it into the stew as a garnish upon serving. This rustic dish pairs exquisitely with crusty farm bread, ideally toasted over charcoal and rubbed with garlic.
For a twist towards the Portuguese Caldo Verde, forgo beans and chorizo, omit cumin and tomato, but add extra potato and an additional ham hock for a different yet equally comforting experience.
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