Garlic Bread Soup Is Not So Strange!

Have you ever tried to save left over garlic bread? Aren’t you always disappointed? Disappointed enough to consider just tossing that garlic bread in the waste bin.

Well just stop right there. Because I have an idea for what to do with that bread. Today I have a Garlic Bread Soup with Steamed Clams recipe for you.

Which may seem like a crazy concoction at first glance. But really it is not that radical. First off it is a great way to use up the leftover garlic bread from all those summer BBQs you have been having.

Garlic soup has a long and splendid tradition in Italy. There are countless versions from all areas of the country. There are Croatian, Spanish and Greek versions that I know of too. So there is plenty of room to squeeze my interpretation into the mix.

Even the idea of using bread as an ingredient in a soup is fairly common. Day old bread strewn as chunks into a soup is the basis for Italy’s classic soup Pappa al Pomodoro (tomatoes and stale bread soup). Other soups use bread as a thickening device. It’s a great way to achieve a velvety texture with just the simplest of ingredients.

So if bread is a perfectly acceptable component in a soup, why not garlic bread? Because nobody needs to toss out a winner like butter laden garlic bread. That should be a sin.

Good garlic bread certainly has garlic and plenty of butter (or olive oil). Sometimes even a few herbs. But it also has a toastiness that makes garlic bread a cipher whose sum is greater than it’s parts.

In order to create that experience in a soup I am using a lot of garlic, a touch of butter, plus onions to give the soup some sweet back notes.

To get that all-important toastiness I am going to caramelize the onions and the garlic in a little butter and olive oil. The effect will be flavors similar to roasted garlic. In fact I could have used roasted garlic but I wanted this to be a soup that is made all in one pot.

Also in keeping with our theme of great ways to keep food from going into the trash. I have also added the rind of an old, used up wedge of good Parmigiano-Reggiano. I always keep mine and add them to soups and stews whether the recipe calls for it or not. Try it in this recipe and see what a rich and earthy element it can add.

I am serving this soup with a plateful of steamed clams. The clams can be tossed in the soup or they can be enjoyed separately.  They can even be replaced with almost any accompaniment or none at all. This is an extremely versatile soup.

That’s because this soup is deeply flavored, with a soulful, rustic quality that is very comforting. It is also a soup that is quite easy to make.

But don’t let the simplicity fool you. Each step is important. Don’t rush the process along. Feel the love that goes into each moment. Taste the soup a lot as you go. Build and layer the flavors. The result will be tantalizingly complex on the palate. It will remind you of its inspiration and primary ingredient, garlic bread. So much so, I swear you might even hear a crunch accompanying that first luscious spoonful.

Serves 4

  • 1 lb onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt
  • white pepper
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 (4 inch) piece of Parmgiano-Reggiano rind only
  • 4–5 cups of left over garlic bread cut into 1‑inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon mixed herbs (parsley, thyme, etc)
  • 8 or 10 steamed clams per pesron (optional)
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish
  • 5 or 6 stems of thyme, leaves removed stems discarded

Saute the onions and garlic in the butter and olive oil in a medium sized saucepan set over low to medium heat. Add a pinch or two of salt and a bit of white pepper. Do not let mixture fry. Small gentle bubbles should form around the edge of the pan and are a good sign that the heat is just right. They will become a deep golden caramel color in about 30 minutes. Stir and watch frequently as they cook.

Add the chicken stock, cheese rind, chopped herbs and the garlic bread.

Simmer another 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often. Taste for seasoning. It may need a bit more salt. If it does let add a pinch and let it cook another 2 or 3 minutes. Remove what is left of the cheese rind and discard it.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender.

You may make the soup a day ahead as it is often better on the second day. Serve this with steamed clams (optional) on the side and a hefty sprinkling of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and some chopped thyme leaves.


Greg Henry