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French Garbure

(Baratzekari Salda, in Basque regions)

This classic peasant soup from the Béarn, Gascon, and Basque regions of France is well storied--witness Gautier's opening chapter of Capitaine Fracasse. Indeed, its very name is controversial--some say it came from the Spanish garbias, for "stew." Others from the Basque garbe, for "sheaf" or "bunch," since it's essentially a bunch of vegetables. Although Garbure was beneath Escoffier's notice (despite cataloging nearly 3000 French recipes), very fancy recipes for it abound in our rich times. Even so, I prefer Julia Child's simple recipe, which captures the robustness and goodness of the dish--and I have adapted it below. Traditionally it should include a chunk of salt pork, or lard rance--and it should be finished with a chunk of preserved meat, preferably the Béarn confit d'oie, or potted goose (salted then simmered for hours in its own fat). It's not a pretty soup, but it's full of flavors and textures, very satisfying. Serve hot as a meal to 8 people with lots of dense country bread.

Garnish: sliced bread, which you place in a tureen and ladle garbure over it; which you can sauté in the skimmed fat and place on top; or which you can brown in the oven with confit and serve separately.

Bring the water, salt pork, and potatoes to a boil in a large soup pot. Add the cabbage and all the remaining ingredients except the confit and the salt. Simmer, partially covered, for 2 hours.

Discard the parsley bundle and remove the cloves from the onions. Take out the meat and slice it into serving pieces. (Traditionally this is served on the side, but can be returned to the pot.) Stir in the congit. Salt to taste. Skim off the fat. Serve in a tureen or ladle into soup plates--accompanying with bread as suggested under the recipe garnish.