Elephant garlic is actually closely related to the leek and thought by some to be its wild ancestor. The bulbs are very large and can weigh more than a pound. They have a flavor that is milder than that of regular garlic and develop a rich sweetness when roasted.
- Yield: 6 servings
For the soup:
- 4 heads elephant garlic
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 4 leeks (white part only), coarsely chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 russet potato, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 8 cups (2 quarts) low-sodium chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
- Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
For the basil purée (makes approximately 1/2 cup):
- 1 cup basil leaves
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Japanese eggplant, thinly sliced and grilled
For the soup:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Cut off the top 1/4 inch of each garlic head. Place garlic heads in a small, shallow baking dish and drizzle oil over them. Bake until golden, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.
- Press individual garlic cloves between your thumb and finger to release them. In a large saucepan place the garlic, leeks, onion, potato, and wine. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until the wine is reduced by half its volume. Add the stock or water and salt and pepper and simmer 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly.
- Working in batches, purée the mixture in a blender until smooth. If the soup is too thick, thin by adding stock or water. Taste and adjust seasonings.
For the basil purée:
- Blanch the basil leaves by placing them in boiling salted water for 15 to 20 seconds and then immediately plunging them into an ice water bath. Remove leaves from the ice water and pat dry.
- Place basil leaves in the bowl of a food processor. Add salt. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in the oil until a smooth purée is formed. You may have to scrape the sides of the bowl several times in order to purée all of the leaves.
- Ladle the soup into warm bowls. Place grilled eggplant in the center of each bowl and top with basil purée.
Advance preparation: As with many of our soups, the flavors become better and more complex if the soup is made several days ahead of time and given a day of rest in the refrigerator.
Variations: You can substitute regular hard neck garlic for the elephant garlic, but the final soup will have a slightly sharper and more pungent flavor. This soup can be served hot or cold. Cream can be added, but we feel this puréed soup already has a creamlike consistency and richness without added fat. The eggplant and basil add an herbal smokiness that balances the sweetness and creaminess of the garlic.
Beverage pairing: The rich roasted sweetness and creaminess of the roasted garlic requires a wine with similar characteristics and a kiss of oak. Recommended: 2000 Adea Chardonnay, Willamette Valley, Oregon; or 2000 White Rock Organic Chardonnay, Napa Valley, California.
A light- to medium-bodied white, such as an Arneis from Piemonte with its notes of pear, almonds, and delicate herbs, would complement the sweet and floral qualities of the basil, as well as the more savory character of the grilled eggplant. We recommend the 2005 Marco Porello Arneis.