Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Mastering the art of leek and potato soup

One of the items which did not get cleaned out of the refrigerator when I made my fabulous vegetable soup was a pair of leeks.  I forget if I bought them with a purpose, or if I just had vague notions of satisfying my craving for leek and potato soup, but in the end the plan became leek and potato soup.

Now, I already knew that this soup is as basic as it gets -- leeks, potatoes, water and salt.  Puree if you like.  Add cream if you like.  And that's pretty much it.  What I was not sure of was the proportions involved, so I went looking for a recipe to tell me.

I started with my monstrous Gourmet cookbook.  With over a thousand pages, I thought I would find what I needed for sure.  There is even a quote from Ruth Reichl, the editor, on the back cover professing "Our goal was to give you a book with every recip you would ever want."  I looked in the index under leek, potato and soup.  Nothing.  More than a thousand pages, and I strik out the very first time I try to use it.  Yet another example of bigger not always being better, I suppose.

My next stop was at to see what my pal Lynne Rosetto Kasper had to say on the matter.  She had what I was looking for, but she admitted that Julia was her source, specifically Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, so rather than write down or pritn out a recipe from the internet, I decided that it would be just as easy to go straight to the source.  And there it was, the very first recipe, under the heading Primal Soups.  I didn't even need to use the index!!

Given the simplicity of the recipe, I am curious to see if it shows up in Ratio by Michael Ruhlman.  One part leeks, one part potatoes, two parts water and salt to season.  Bring to a boil and then simmer, partially covered, for twenty to thirty minutes or until vegetables are tender.  Adjust seasoning as needed and serve as is or pureed, with cream on top or whisked in.

I had a little more than two cups of leeks once I chopped them up.  (Don't forget to rinse thoroughly and use white and light green parts only, composting the dark green bits.)  I chopped up a little more than two cups of potatoes.  Julia calls for "baking" potatoes.  I have red potatoes because that is what I love -- for baking, boiling, frying and mashing -- and I refuse to peel, so after a scrub and a chop, in they went.  I added four cups of water and half a cup of pinot blanc because I seem to use wine almost as often as magic cheese these days -- Valley of the Moon Pinot Blanc 2010 to be specific in this case.

I think that I could have done with less liquid -- maybe cook uncovered rather than partially covered.  I wanted creamy soup, so I pureed in half a container, about four ounces, of mascarpone cheese.  The soup was still a little thinner than I would have liked, but it tasted pretty darn good.  The second cup was almost buttery, which kind of made me wonder what a splash of lemon juice might have done for it.  I wasn't brave enough to try this time.

Following the success of this recipe, I have begun reading Julia's Kitchen Wisdom, and once again, Julia is brilliant.  If you are intimidated by Mastering the Art of French Cooking, try Julia's Kitchen Wisdom.  It's a diminutive volume, but every page is packed with recipes broken down into their building blocks -- a distillation of forty years of cooking adventures.

I have learned that "rather than using a butter-and-flour roux for thickening, you simmer rice in the soup base until very tender.  When it is turned into a very fine puree in the electric blender, you have a deliciously creamy, literally fat-free cream soup."  Brilliant!  And gluten free for those who are concerned about such things.  She did not specify what kind of rice to use, but I wonder if the naturally creamy arborio rice I have been using for risotto would be as delicious as I imagine.

Thanks to this little book, I am no longer intimidated by fish chowder and am excited to make my own.  Hollandaise sauce, on the other hand, while very clearly explained, is still kind of scary.

I am only eighteen pages in, but I have already marked half a dozen examples of Julia's trademark humor and turn of phrase.  I would quote more extensively, but I think that they would lose something when taken out of context, so you will just have to go get your own copy and read to see what I am talking about.  Go on.  You know you want to.