My family loves soups, stews and chili this time of year. I had a freezer full of stuff and plenty of basic ingredients on hand, but I was just not eager to get out and head to the grocery through the recent slush and snow.
I also had plenty of cookbooks on hand to provide some afternoon entertainment with the cable TV down.
I picked up my well-worn copy of the book that launched a food icon, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.
You don't have to turn many pages to the first chapter: SOUP (Potage et Soupes), which sounds fancy but is quite basic. Potage Parmentier in French translates to Leek or Onion and Potato Soup. It can be enjoyed alone, pureed or run through a food mill, served hot or cold as Vichyssoise (not in February of course) or enhanced with other things.
I've always loved Julia's positive encouraging approach to cooking. Her recipes have full explanations of the techniques and tools one can use to achieve any particular dish. I love Julia's all encompassing style, though today most print media are forced to write most recipes as short as possible. Books of recipes filling 700 pages don't come out every day. So Julia's detailed recipes with multiple options are a treasure.
I found the first recipe on Page 37 and decided to make the soup and avoid slipping and sliding into town. I even had leeks on hand, though Julia takes the practical approach of using onions or leeks as most folks don't keep them on hand. (I buy them often since reading a lesser-known book with a French twist: “French Women Don't Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano.) Several recipes include them for keeping slim and chic. I simply like the texture and subtle sweet flavor of leeks in many of the soups we enjoy.
We have come to love French Onion Soup with both leeks and onions. My mother-in-law's potato soup included onions and celery but never leeks. We have come to love the version with leeks. It is simple to make, but has a sophisticated flavor all its own. Though I have a food mill, which Julia preferred over a blender, we love having the chunks of potato and the texture of the leeks in the soup. If the potato peelings are unblemished and thin, I leave them intact.
Julia simmered the vegetables in water for 50 minutes before running them through a food mill, adding cream and butter and then garnishing with chives or minced parsley. I soften the potatoes and leeks in just enough chicken broth to cover them before finishing with milk and no cream or butter to achieve just the consistency we like.
Every time I saw Julia or visited with her for any length of time, she asked about Oklahoma chef John Bennett. Her genuine affection for people who shared her love of cooking and that intense curiosity of hers propelled her to icon status over the years.
Long before the Julia Child Kitchen was on display in the Smithsonian, I acquired my first edition copy of that classic book from a used bookstore in Washington, D.C. It is still a great read any time of year, but the perfect inspiration on a cold winter day.
Inspired by the recipe beginning on Page 37, I created my own version of this beautiful soup when I didn't have time to peel potatoes, simmer ingredients for 50 minutes and process through a food mill. Just leeks in lieu of onions and celery with the potatoes makes a chunky version of the French classic.
My mother and mother-in-law would have never made potato soup without celery and onions.
The amounts as well as the ratio of ingredients are a suggestion.
Vary them according to what you have on hand and your preference.
Sherrel's Leek and Potato Soup
Make 4 to 6 servings.
2 or 3 leeks, sliced ¼-inch thick including part of green tops (place slices in large bowl of cold water to allow dirt and debris to fall to bottom of bowl)
2 pounds potatoes, peeled or unpeeled cut in bite-size chunks
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
5 to 6 cups milk
* Seasoning: salt and pepper or 2 chicken bullion cubes (unless you are on sodium restricted diet) fresh parsley to garnish
Cooking notes: The original recipe calls for cream and uses water for cooking the potatoes and leeks. Using 2 percent milk works well as the starch from the potatoes adds to the viscosity of the soup. Adjust the amount of milk to vary the ratio of vegetables to liquid.
A summer version can be pureed and served icy cold in chilled cups or bowls.
Other garnishes such as little bits of crunchy bacon or chives can be used.
Create your own version of the soup with the addition of other vegetables.