Y’know, a Paddy such as I could probably make themselves quite at home in the corner of Spain that is Galicia. The landscape is really quite green, the region does a good line in celtic diddly-eye music and the local cuisine features plenty of spuds. Walking through the countryside here, you might well feel like you have been transported to somewhere that has all of the appearances of the slow-paced, rural Ireland of times past, but with warmer weather and, it has to be said, better seafood.
It was the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage route that brought me to parts of Galicia and Castile y León this past week. The Camino, which stretches across Northern Spain and beyond into France and even further afield, is tremendously popular these days. It attracts all sorts of people with all sorts of reasons for wanting to tread its ancient pathways and, while I wasn’t necessarily there for the potatoes (which, if it were so, would surely constitute one of the more unusual reasons for doing the Camino), spuds did manage to permeate my week in their own way.
Walking the Camino route, I couldn’t help but admire the fine patches of potatoes and other vegetables along the way and, when it was time to eat, more often than not, there were pots of caldo gallego, a hearty galician soup with spuds, beans and greens, or slabs of tortilla española, the classic Spanish potato omelette, or pieces of trout, salmon or hake served simply with boiled spuds. When it was time to drink, well, patatas fritas aplenty were washed down with not a few cervezas.
So today, back in real, rainy Ireland and feeling a little nostalgic for those that I shared spuds with over the past week, I played some Spanish music, made my own pot of caldo gallego, checked my feet for blisters and, for just a little while, imagined that I was somewhere back on that ancient road.
Caldo Gallego à la Spud
- 100g dried haricot or cannellini beans or 1x400g tin of haricots or cannellini
- 750ml chicken or vegetable stock or water
- 500g potatoes
- 250g dark leafy greens – I used chard
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 tblsp red wine vinegar
- 1.5 tsp salt or less if using stock that’s already salted
- freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil for frying
- If using dried beans, you’ll need to soak them overnight or, to quick soak, place them in a saucepan with several inches of water, bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 2 minutes, then remove from the heat, cover and leave to soak for at least an hour.
- To cook the soaked beans, drain them and then cover with the stock or water, bring to a boil over a medium heat, then reduce the heat, cover and simmer for about an hour or until starting to become tender. Alternatively, add the beans and stock or water to a pressure cooker, along with about a tblsp of oil, bring up to pressure and cook for about 8 minutes and allow the pressure to drop. Set aside.
- If using tinned beans, there’s no need for soaking and cooking, just drain and rinse them.
- If you don’t care for potato skins in your soup, peel the potatoes, otherwise scrub them well, and then chop into chunks, roughly 2cm across.
- Wash the chard thoroughly and cut away any thick stalks. Cut the leaves into strips about 2-3cm wide and slice the stalks into pieces about 1-2cm long.
- Place a heavy saucepan over a medium heat. When hot, add olive oil to coat the pan, then add the onion and garlic and stir and fry for about 2 minutes.
- Add the potato chunks and stir and fry for another minute or two.
- Add the bay leaves, salt, cooked beans and their cooking liquid or, if using tinned beans, add the beans plus stock or water. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes start to become tender.
- Add the chard stalks and cook for about another 5 minutes, then add the chard leaves and stir, allowing the leaves to wilt a bit and bring back to a simmer. Cook for another 10 minutes or so or until the greens are tender.
- Add the red wine vinegar and a couple of twists of black pepper and stir to mix.
- Serve with some nice crusty bread, not much else needed.
- You could use butter beans in place of the haricots/cannellini, they’ll just need a longer initial cooking time – maybe 90 minutes or so, or 10 minutes in a pressure cooker.
- You could also substitute other dark greens, such as kale, for the chard. If using, add it 10-15 minutes earlier in the cooking process as it needs a longer cooking time.
- For a meatier soup, try adding chunks of chorizo towards the end of cooking.
- Hearty soup for 3-4 pilgrims