KC 147 – Garlic Broth and Stracciatella

KC 147 – Garlic Broth and Stracciatella

Why Hello there, and welcome, once again, to Kitchen Catastrophes. I’m your author du jour, Jon O’Guin, and today’s recipe is complicated. Well, I lie. The recipe is simple. But the GOAL is complicated. Look, this will all make more sense in a minute. Let’s stop trying to put the cart before the horse, and talk about Garlic Broth.

 

Suck on that, Drac

Garlic broth, fundamentally, is exactly what it sounds like: a broth whose primary flavoring and nutritional power comes from a base of garlic.

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A secret base, shrouded in…well, a sort of vegetable paper, really.

The reasoning behind the idea is relatively direct and sound. Historically, people ascribe a BUNCH of medicinal effects to garlic. If you believe every claim about it, then Garlic regulates Blood Pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, stops heart attacks and strokes,  fights any kind of infection you can get, fights cancer, cures earache, and helps treat gout, tuberculosis, and whooping cough, slows HIV, kills the flu and the common cold. IN short, if you can’t afford medicine, consider buying garlic.

The cure-all nature of garlic is, in fact, assumed by some to be the reasoning behind its ability to ward off vampires: garlic is so healthy that it not only stops death, but the UNDEAD!

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“I, Vlad Dracula, am strong enough to go toe-to-toe with the Justice League in the 70’s, but cannot handle your average plate of Italian food.”

The evidence of these claims has been...mixed. The health benefits, of course, not its deleterious effects on Draculas; Those are well-recorded, and are why there are no vampires in Rome. Well, that and all the crosses in the Vatican, but I digress.  In raw medicinal terms, there is some evidence that it helps prevent digestive tract cancers, but it wields its most powerful effect as a placebo: People have spent so much time BELIEVING garlic is good for them that eating it…is good for them. …Which makes me pointing out that most of that benefit is just in your head unhelpful. Whoops.

A lot of this comes down to an error of scale: Garlic has a LOT of compounds in it, and many of those compounds DO have medicinal effects, when concentrated and isolated. Ajoene, for instance, is a sulfur compound found in garlic that, and this is a real list of its abilities: has antioxidant properties (fights cancer), anti-clotting properties (preventing heart attack and strokes), has antimicrobial and virucidal properties (fights bacteria, fungal, and viral infections), hinders integrin-dependent processes in immunovirus patients (slows HIV), and has been used in chemotherapy against skin, brain, and lung cancer, as well as leukemia (SUPER fights cancer). Which is, you know, HALF the list of miracle achievements from the earlier paragraph. But the thing is, you won’t get all those benefits from EATING ajoene, and most of them require higher concentrations than you can healthily get.

Garlic itself DOES have infection fighting powers, and it DOES help reduce the chance of blood clots (it’s actually something you have to be careful about if you’re taking blood thinners: mixing too much garlic with blood thinners can cause medical issues.) but it’s not a cure-all. IT’s a cure-some, and it can help alleviate the symptoms of things it can’t quite kill on its own.

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Such as VAMPIRE SUPERMAN!!?!
Silly question: if Superman gets his powers from the sun, does he become stronger or weaker as a vampire?

Alleviating symptoms is actually part of the problem, thanks to this divide in how PEOPLE think about sickness versus how science thinks about it. People think of a sickness in terms of what it DOES to them, how it affects their lives, while science just sees if the right stuff is present. For instance, you have a stuffed up nose from a cold, and you take Mucinex, or another decongestant, and blows your nose wide-open, you tend to think of yourself as “cured”, because your primary symptom is gone. But you’re not, on a scientific level. The decongestant doesn’t kill your cold, it just opens your nose. The instant your doses give out, if you’ve still got the cold in you, you’re clogging up again. And you can still spread the cold, even if you don’t feel your symptoms.

This is where I think a lot of Garlic’s over-blown rep comes from. Garlic doesn’t cure the common cold, but a hot garlic press or spicy garlic dish might clear out your sinuses, making you FEEL cured for a while. So you tell your friend “garlic cured my cold”, when it really just unclogged your nose.

And if you’re saying to yourself “Man, this all sounds kinda dry and technical”, first off, rude. Thirdly, sometimes it’s important to learn, GREG. Secondly, I had THREE vampire jokes in there, so come on. Fifth and lastly: It’s all related to why this post is happening at all. SO NOW THAT THE SCIENCE IS DONE, LET’S GET TO THE POINT.

 

Sickly Sticky Tykes Cycling on Slick Trikes

This is what happens when I tell my brain “Make a reference to being sick”. It starts rhyming, and ends up with a nonsense tongue-twister instead of a point. The point is that a couple weeks ago, I was reading Bon Appetit, the only food magazine I consistently pay money for, and they had a single page article about the idea of Garlic broth.

The pitch was simple: given the ‘health benefits’ of garlic (SEE?), the author found that making garlic broth was a perfect way to help them get back on their feet when home from work sick. And the recipe is incredibly simple. Heck, it’s arguably only a 2 ingredient recipe if you discount kitchen staples. The author, Chris Morocco of Bon Appetit and Healthy-ish, notes that you can get away with a simpler process than the one this recipe uses, but that the flavor of this one is better, so I stuck with it.

As you might expect, this recipe starts with garlic. A lot of garlic. Two whole heads of garlic.

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Hail Hydra!

One head ends up getting peeled and crushed, while the other just gets cut in half.  The peeled cloves get tossed in a couple tablespoons of vegetable oil, and bubble away for around 9 minutes until nice and golden brown. They’ll get a little firm, and any little pieces that flake off of them will get positively sticky and harden once they lock onto something, so be a little cautious with your spoon. If you cut up the garlic and kept going, this is how you’d get those crunchy fried garlic flakes you get in like, Vietnamese and Thai food.

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Don’t threaten me with a good time, Jon. I’ll crunch these suckers UP.

Once the cloves are starting to brown, the next step is the hardest part: you dump in 8 cups of water, toss in two ingredients, and do nothing for 30 minutes.

Like I said, it’s the Hardest part, I just never said it was particularly hard. So, other than the water, what goes in? The first answer should be obvious: The other head of garlic that you cut in half 10 minutes ago. See, the recipe wants to balance the flavors from raw garlic and fried garlic. Presumably, if you really wanted to make your day longer, you could roast a third head of garlic and add it to the broth pot just to triple your vamp-punching power.

The other ingredient is “some green stuff, or whatever”. If that sounds dismissive, here’s the ACTUAL line from the original recipe: “Grab a handful of fresh herbs (if you have them) like parsley, cilantro, sage, or scallions, and add them to the pot [.]” If you’re not up-to-date on your herbal distinctions, of the four options listed, only TWO taste remotely similar. And look at the phrasing: “Grab a handful”, “if you have them”. The herbs are OPTIONAL here, and barely measured. Now, me, I wanted to be as bougie as possible in this basic broth, so I grabbed not one, not two, but FOUR herbs.

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See if you can identify them all! (One is more of a ‘vegetable’ than an herb, but c’est la vie.)
Answers in literally half a sentence.

I got a handful of scallions, AND a little container of “poultry blend” fresh herbs, which contained rosemary, thyme, and sage. And I just chucked it all in and wandered off for half an hour. Then I came back, and tasted my soup, and immediately flinched at the flavor. Maybe it’s the plumbing in this older house, but all the water from the sink here…tastes like sink. Kinda metallic, a little chlorinated…I’m sure it’s safe (or rather, until this moment I never really thought about the odds that it WASN’T…) but it’s a little sharp. And it’s what my pot of broth tasted like. Water. Sharp, metallic water. So I just wandered off again. That’s the beauty of simmering periods like these: If I don’t like it, I can wander off and come back later.

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This is going…well?
(Actually, the steam from the pot just washed out the color balance, it’s going to look better on your stove)

Eventually, after around an hour of simmering, and almost reducing by HALF instead of the suggested quarter, I had a broth that I liked. I took out the whole garlic cloves, scooped out the now-bedraggled herb remnants, and made sure there was nothing in the broth pot left that couldn’t flow through or around a slotted spoon, and…put it in the fridge.

Yeah, turns out, I didn’t have a GOAL with the broth. I just wanted to make it to see if it worked. It did, so now I was stuck with a quart of broth and nothing to do with it. The author said you could use it to make soup, or just drink it straight to fight off sickness…I didn’t have a goal. I TRIED using it to make a weird veggie-noodle Ramen bowl that I really should have taken the hint about when it turned out to not have a UPC and ditched at the store, because it ALSO didn’t have any instructions on how to cook it, and the resulting abomination of using what seemed like far too little of a far-too-cold broth mixed with ramen flavoring had…results.

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Turns out mixing yellow broth with a brown soup mix makes a DISGUSTING color. Flavorwise, it was only kind of weird, but it was a visual disaster.

After that failed attempt, I was just about to throw it in. I made the broth, it tasted okay, let you all figure out what to do with it yourselves. But it…troubled me. Firstly, because I never like to let the food win. Secondly, because I was going to need the Tupperware it was in clean and empty when I left, so making a quart of broth and then dumping 3 cups of it felt wasteful. So I dug a little deeper, and found another recipe I could use it for. And when I say a “little” deeper, I mean that very literally: the recipe I ended up using is LITERALLY in the same article, as an EXAMPLE of what to do with the broth. That recipe: Stracciatella.

 

It All Falls Apart

Stracciatella, as you can tell by the excess of c’s and l’s, is an Italian recipe. It’s actually MULTIPLE Italian recipes, including both soup AND gelato, because Italy loves to be confusing. Actually, it’s because of the name itself: stracciatella means “little shred(s)” or “shredded small”. So it’s like if you named something ‘Tatters’, which I only bring up because I thought of the word as the example, and then realized it would be a great name for a dog or cat.

puppies.jpg

A revelation certainly tied to the amount of time I’ve spent near puppies of late.

Anyway, the soup came first, and then later, the gelato was made in reference to it. Stracciatella soup is just hot broth with a flavored egg mixture drizzled in so you get tiny ‘shreds’ of egg, like Egg Drop Soup in Chinese cuisine. The ice cream is vanilla with tiny flakes of chocolate, hence the comparison.

Now, for a fully Italian stracciatella alla Romana, you’d mix your egg with parmesan, and breadcrumbs, nutmeg and lemon zest and salt and pepper…which all sounded complicated, so I just beat up an egg and poured it in. HOWEVER, I DID add my own flourish…by which I mean “I half-assed the recipe I had”. See, the recipe linked by the article used egg and spinach for its soup. To which I thought “Hey, if the point is fighting illness, why stop at just spinach? Why not grab the superfood of green produce, and use…KALE!”

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A plant so green, it’s purple!
Which feels like an implicit criticism of wealth and nobility, but is, in fact, just gibberish.

Also, the kale was getting close to going bad. I thought I might do something with it, and then I didn’t. LOOK, MAN. THINGS HAVE BEEN ROUGH. I HAD A LOT OF NOTHING TO DO IN BETWEEN ALL THE SHOWS AND STUFF. So I tore up some purple kale, and threw it in a simmering pan of broth on the stove, because all our pots were dirty, and I don’t know where the dishwasher fluid is. (Though, having now written that, I think I DO know where it is, I just mistook it for soap.) Anyway, KALE in the pot to simmer. I threw it in now, while the original recipe throws it in AFTER the egg, because I figured the kale would take longer to soften. Now I’ll just add the egg…while…swirling the broth…

…I think I found another reason the spinach was added after the egg.

Determined to make this dish even IF I did it dumbly, I simply cleared some space in the pan, swirled THAT section of broth, and poured in the egg. And it made…

success, kinda.jpg

A mess!

Honestly, that went a lot better than it had any right to. They are not kidding when they call the egg fragments “tiny shreds”, damn. I stopped about halfway to make sure I was stirring enough, but the whole thing went pretty smooth. Once the egg was in, I hit the pan with some salt and pepper, and walked away to clean my tools in the sink. After about 3 minutes, I poured my soup into a mug, because the bowls were ALSO dirty,  and I had yet to have my revelation about the dishwashing stuff we shared 2 paragraphs ago.

cup of joe.jpg

Weird image, but doesn’t the mass of kale and eggs in there kinda look like a Panda Ghost Rider? Running left, of course. No? Just me?


How was it? Well, it certainly wasn’t winning any good-looks awards. The Kale was starting to somehow bleed green into the soup , and the little tatters of egg look less appealing in greenish fluid, but flavor wise, it actually tasted…good. Not amazing, but it had that same quality that a bowl of chicken noodle soup has: it was warm, a little rich from the egg, the kale was still a little chewy, the whole thing tasted and felt like a good cup of soup when you’ve been sick. I definitely recommend giving it a try JUST for the soup, and I encourage you to find your own uses for the broth itself: it’s basically just vegetable stock with a more distinct flavor, after all.

THURSDAY: I HAVE TOO MUCH ON MY PLATE TO THINK OF WHAT I’M DOING NEXT WEEK.  I AM LITERALLY WRITING THIS ON THURSDAY, BECAUSE I HAVE TO GET IT UPLOADED AND SCHEDULED ON FRIDAY, BECAUSE I WILL HAVE NO TIME SATURDAY-MONDAY TO WORK ON IT.

NEXT MONDAY: SOUP IN A CUP, HUH? THAT GIVES ME SOME IDEAS…

 

Recipe

Garlic Broth

Makes 4 cups

Ingredients

 

2 heads of garlic, one cloves separated and peeled, the other cut in half horizontally.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 quarts water

4 scallions, sliced in half

A handful of herbs

Salt and pepper.

 

Preparation

1.       Heat the olive oil over medium low heat in a large pot. Lightly crush all the peeled cloves of garlic, and add to the heated oil. Fry, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes, until garlic is golden brown.

2.       Add water, scallions, herbs, and remaining head of garlic. Bring to an active simmer until garlic is very soft, broth has reduced by about half, and flavors are to your liking. Using a slotted spoon, remove garlic, scallions, and herbs and discard.

3.       Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve/store/prepare next recipe.

 

Garlic Stracciatella

Scalable

Ingredients (per person)

1 large egg

¾ cup Garlic broth

1 cup torn spinach leaves, or 1 kale stalk, also torn.

 

Preparation

1.       Scramble the egg with a fork in a separate bowl or cup. Bring broth to a gentle simmer.

2.       Add the spinach/kale, allowing to soften for 4-5 minutes.

3.       Stir broth mixture into a vortex, and drizzle egg into swirling broth, stirring continuously to distribute heat.

4.       Simmer an additional 3-4 minutes, season AGAIN with salt and pepper, and serve hot.