Sopa Castellana AKA Sopa de Ajo

     One of the things I love about Europe is how each region has its own culinary specialties. The same is true in the USA, but it seems accentuated there with so much history behind each region and their dishes. This soup is one of the main dishes from the Castilla-Leon region of Spain. I first discovered it in the dining hall of a 12th century castle in Seguinza, one of our stops when my husband and I visted the Spanish town he grew up in, near Madrid and explored the region.
Me: See this castle? That was  our hotel!
You: No way! That's awesome!
Me: I know, right!?!  :)

Me with my husband in Retiro Park in Madrid

Sopa Castellana, like many of my favorites, began as a peasant dish. The recipe calls for broth, eggs, ham (although I'm told the original was often meatless), and stale bread. Traditionally, it would be finished by baking an egg in the bottom of the bowl and then serving the soup on top, but I don't have oven safe bowls and I'm assuming the same may be true for many of you. :) At first I found the idea of using stale bread as a little odd, but this time I went for authenticity and I actually prefer it! My sister recently tried it and said it was "like breakfast soup." I agree!

* a note on the bread: buy a baguette from the deli and wait a few days. If you can almost use it as a door-knocker, it's ready! Regular sliced sandwich bread is usually so full of preservatives it will go moldy before it gets stale, anyhow. Once I had a package of burger buns sit in the pantry for months and they never showed a hint of age... *enter theme music from "The Twilight Zone"* 
No good. 

Yeild: 4 servings

1 1/2 Tbs Olive oil
5-6 Cloves of garlic
1/4 lb. Sliced ham (I use Boar's Head Tavern Ham - it seems to have the best flavor for this)
32 oz. Low sodium beef broth
1 1/4 cup Water
1 Tbs Smoked paprika (not sweet or hot)
1 Baguette (you'll need about 8 inches of it)
4 Eggs (one for each serving)

1. Heat olive oil over med-low heat in a large pot. Peel and slice the garlic cloves and saute them in the oil. As the garlic cooks, dice the ham and add it to the pot once the garlic is nice and golden. Give it a stir and let the ham cook for 2-3 minutes to render out some of the fat.
2. Meanwhile, slice the half the bread and quarter the slices. Use a spoon to scoop the garlic and ham to the edge of the pot and lay the bread pieces down in the drippings to toast. Turn the bread once so it toasts on both sides, then give it a stir and add the paprika, making sure that it doesn't hit the bottom of the pot and burn. Mix it in well and cook on low for another 2 or 3 minutes.
3. Add the beef broth and water and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes. Slice and toast the remaining the bread.
4. When the soup is cooked through, carefully break the eggs into the soup, stir, and let stand for 2 minutes before topping with the toasted bread and serving.
* you can leave the eggs whole and poach them in the soup, or you can break the yolks and stir them in.