THE FLAVOR IS GONNA KNOCK YOU OUT
Caldo Gallego, pronounced “Cald-o Gay-yay-go”, is a wonderfully rich and delicious Spanish soup made from collard greens, navy beans, chorizos, onions, green peppers, and potatoes, cooked in a broth concocted from a ham hock and water. OK, it doesn’t sound rich, and perhaps it doesn’t even sound delicious. But just look at the picture of it and you’ll realize there is a lot of potential in those few ingredients. This recipe was made by both my mother and father, with the same ingredients but different methods. My mother would soak dried beans overnight, and never settle for anything but a ham bone – and always used salt pork. She claimed anything else was just sub-par and turned her nose up at it. My father would use navy beans from a can, a ham hock, and substitute bacon fat for the rendered salt pork, and would claim it tasted just as good and was ten times easier. And you didn’t have to eat a ham to get the bone. I tend to agree with my father on this one, and the recipe I use is, essentially, his version.
Both of my parents were so proud of their soups that they would make them to take to the annual church bazaars – one in New York and one in Florida. Then one day, one of those community cookbooks was being put together in Florida, this one being all politicians, local leaders, and members of the press. My father, being the Capital Correspondent for the Tallahassee Democrat back then, was invited to supply his favorite recipe.
Among recipes by the Governor, State Senators, US Senators, and the like, there is my dad’s soup recipe. What he didn’t seem to grasp was that the thing that was going to make the cookbook unique was that the recipes were going to be printed as submitted – on their personal, and very impressive, stationery. My dad submitted his recipe looking like the letters he would write to me as a child – with afterthoughts penned in with a felt tip pen, and things scratched out that he decided to rephrase. It’s classic Jim Hardee, and so is the recipe.
CHAOS IN THE COOKBOOK
This soup takes time, but very little effort. You can rest and watch TV while you cook it, and when the family gets home they will think that you have been working all day on it. (Because you will tell them that). The first step is to slice the chorizos and place them, with the ham hock, into a large soup pot with three quarts of water. Get that simmering on medium, set a timer for half an hour, and do the rest of your prep.
Dice the onion and the green pepper, and put them in a bowl together. Use your favorite vegetable peeler to get the skin off of the potatoes and cut them up into relatively equal sized pieces. My father liked 1 inch pieces – my mother said they had to be big enough to take up the whole spoon when you were eating it. I like the 1′′ variety, but don’t worry about it. Cut them how you like them. Set them in a bowl, as well. Fry the bacon in a frying pan so that you can render the fat you are going to sauté the onion and pepper in. I prefer to cook the bacon until it is fully done, because then I can snack on it, and sneak some to Bentley, the dog, who LOVES BACON!
TIME TO WATCH SOME TV
It will have been about a half hour at this point. So go ahead and add the cans of beans, which you have drained, and the collard greens, which you have not drained. Use your garlic press to crush the garlic clove and add it to the pot. Stir it all up and then bring the soup up to the boil and turn the pot as low as it will go while still simmering. Sauté the onion and green pepper until softened, or transparent, as the chefs like to say, and stir that into the pot. Set another timer for a half hour and go watch an episode of The Andy Griffith Show.
When the timer goes off, get up off the couch, and go put the potatoes in the pot. Stir it up well and notice how delicious it all looks. Be proud of yourself. Set another timer for 30 minutes, and go watch an episode of The Office. As soon as the timer goes off, or The Office ends, check to see if the potatoes are soft enough. They should be. Take the pot off the heat and use a pair of tongs to get the ham hock out of the pot. Put it on a cutting board and let it cool for a few minutes.
Then, using a fork and knife, cut out the good pieces of ham, and discard the fat and skin and other yucky stuff. There won’t be a lot of ham, but there will be enough. Add that to the soup, stir and taste it for seasoning. At this point I like to add salt, and some MSG, which gives the flavor some depth. If you don’t like MSG, don’t add it. Either way, the soup will have more umaminess after sitting in the refrigerator over night.
It’s just so hard to not eat it right on the spot. It’s one of those soups served best with some sliced and toasted Italian bread. Do that.