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A soup you can eat with a fork? Oui!

EVERY year the chocolate show comes to New York, and every year I dutifully trudge off to see it. It's a classic case of hope triumphing over experience — chocolate is always just chocolate.

This year, a miracle happened. Someone brought soup. And not some silly assemblage of Ghirardelli melted into Grand Marnier with marshmallows for croutons. This was real soup, rich and gutsy, the antithesis of froufrou truffles and effete single-estate chocolate bars. And there could not be a better discovery this time of year, even if it does come from France.

I found it at a booth run by D'Artagnan, where samples of chocolates made with real truffles were being passed out almost as cover for the savory stuff for sale. The name pasted above the steaming pot — garbure — was not particularly alluring, but what was ladled into my cup was the most sublime potage, an aromatic broth floating with juicy shreds of duck, strips of cabbage, nubbins of cured pork and chunks of carrots. No flu shot could compete.

Ariane Daguin, a co-founder of D'Artagnan, later told me that the soup (pronounced gahr-BOOHR) is a staple in her home region of France, which is known for duck and foie gras and other indulgences on the light side.

"It's typical of Gascony," she said. "Basically, it's the soup that stays in the fireplace for days. It's the main meal of the morning; when the guys go into the fields, it's what they take with them as the hot dish of the day."

Often, it's ladled over a thick slice of bread. And it's usually finished with a swig of red wine, swirled through the empty bowl. There's no denying it would give enough strength to harvest a truckload of cabbage.

Every day, Daguin said, the pot is replenished with more vegetables or meat, so that it improves over time, getting denser and more satisfying. By the fourth and last day at the chocolate show, she said, her version was perfection.

"It's an all-day soup," Daguin said. "You keep it in the fireplace in a crémaillère [a big pot] and often before you go to bed you don't have the whole soup, you just have a ladle of the bouillon."

The "bouillon" is traditionally made from duck stock, but some recipes call for simmering a ham hock or a slab of the French pork ventreche or regular unsmoked bacon with the usual holy trinity of Southwestern French cooking — garlic, onions and celery — to make a nourishing broth.

Dried white beans, usually coco or flageolet, are then added. Those alone would guarantee a filling soup. But then a whole head of Savoy cabbage — sliced, blanched and softened in duck fat — goes in next, along with carrots and maybe turnips or potatoes. The soup is already veering toward stew when you toss in a couple of duck legs in confit. Garlic is integral to the flavor: Six chopped cloves go into the pot raw and six more are confited in half a cup of duck fat until they are soft and mellow.

Gascons are renowned for their bravery in the face of fat, but I think the soup benefits from a night's rest in the refrigerator — it congeals the way an oxtail stew does, and the extra fat can be taken away with no loss of rich flavor.

The soup is served in warmed bowls with the duck and pork shredded or cut into bite-size pieces and distributed evenly with the vegetables.

Calling garbure hearty would be an understatement. Daguin said her father, André, a legendary chef in Gascony, says: "It's soup you eat with a fork." You can't say that about chocolate.

*

Garbure

Total time: About 2 hours, 10 minutes after overnight soaking

Servings: 10 to 12

Note: Adapted from Ariane Daguin. Diced turnips or potatoes can also be added with the carrots. Duck legs in confit are available at Nicole's in Pasadena and Surfas in Culver City. Duck fat is available at specialty grocery stores such as Bristol Farms. Both are also available on http://www.dartagnan.com .


1 cup dry white beans (coco or flageolet)

1/2 cup duck fat

12 large cloves peeled garlic: 6 whole, 6 chopped

1/2 pound lean pancetta or slab bacon, in one piece

2 medium onions, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

1 small Savoy cabbage, trimmed and cored

2 duck legs in confit

4 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 teaspoons salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1. Sort through the beans to remove any stones. Cover by 3 inches with cold water and soak overnight.

2. Combine the duck fat and whole garlic cloves in a very small baking dish. Bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, until the garlic is very soft. Strain the fat and reserve; set the garlic aside.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the duck fat from the garlic in a Dutch oven or a deep, heavy soup pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta or bacon, chopped garlic, onions and celery and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes.

4. Drain the beans and add to the pot, stirring to coat with fat. Add 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook 40 to 50 minutes, until the beans are turning tender.

5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Cut the trimmed cabbage into 6 wedges and blanch 5 minutes. Remove and drain very well. Cut crosswise into 1-inch strips, discarding the thickest ribs of the heaviest leaves. Heat 3 tablespoons of the garlic duck fat in a large, deep skillet and add half the cabbage, turning to coat all sides. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, until the cabbage is softened and just beginning to take on color. Transfer to the soup pot. Repeat with the remaining duck fat and cabbage and add to the pot.

6. Add the duck legs and carrots to the pot. Cover and cook about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender. Season with 2 teaspoons salt and pepper.

7. Remove the pancetta or bacon and duck legs from the soup and place on a cutting board. When it's cool enough to handle, cut the pancetta or bacon into 1-inch pieces, discarding the extraneous fat. Return the meat pieces to the soup pot. Remove and discard the skin from the duck legs and roughly shred the meat into large chunks. Return the duck meat to the soup and add the garlic cooked in duck fat. Simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed and lots of black pepper.

8. If not serving immediately, cool slightly, then refrigerate until cold. Scrape off and discard any fat congealed on surface before reheating.

9. To serve, ladle into bowls, making sure meat and other ingredients are evenly divided. Serve plain or ladled over a thick slice of sturdy bread. Makes 14 cups.


Each of 12 servings: 237 calories; 11 grams protein; 21 grams carbohydrates; 8 grams fiber; 13 grams fat; 4 grams saturated fat; 27 mg. cholesterol; 537 mg. sodium.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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