Apologies for the silence and for the day-late Meatless Monday post. (Meatless Tuesday isn't quite as mellifluous.) I've had my head in a (figurative) flowerpot, pretending that our new senator is not a Republican who once posed naked for Cosmo. Well, that and other things, but between the special election and the Supreme Court and my flooded basement, the flowerpot is looking more appealing every day.
Anyway. As promised, now that the new year is well upon us, I am writing about soup for all who are still feeling abstemious and slightly regretful about overloading on fancy food full of sugar and fat over the holidays. Potato leek soup is about as simple as it gets. I tend to make it every fall, especially when it's the end of farmer's market season and I start to feel like "oh no, the season's almost over, I must buy extra vegetables while they're here," and I inevitably end up with lots of leeks and lots of potatoes (since, of course, it's the end of the season and there's not a huge variety.) But that makes this soup equally appropriate for January because even in New England, you can still find decent leeks and potatoes, and that's basically all you need. Plus, there aren't many soups more comforting than potato-leek, and it seems like we could all use some comforting this month.
Recently when I made this, I was all ready to devote some time to the soup and make stock for it, figuring that a soup with so few ingredients in it would need a hearty stock. But Deborah Madison disagreed. In her recipe for Potato-leek soup in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, she specifically says to use water, just water. Well, who am I to question Deborah Madison on the question of stock vs. water? And besides, it saved me some chopping time.
More recently, I decided to branch out and make the variation in Deborah Madison's soup cookbook, Leek and Scallion soup, with potato gnocchi. This one has fewer potatoes in the soup itself but makes up for the lack by the addition of potato gnocchi at the end.
I'm including both recipes because each soup has its own pleasures. The plain potato leek soup is earthy and simple, with the clear flavors of the potatoes and the leeks fully resonant. The second soup is a bit more elegant, with a tang from the wine; with fewer potatoes, the flavor of the leeks and scallions also stands out more sharply. This is a soup you could serve for company, if you needed a simple starter.
Either way, they both encompass the qualities of simplicity, virtue and deliciousness, all fine qualities in soup, of course, and what all of us could use as January staggers to a close.
1 1/2 pounds potatoes (Yellow Finn, Yukon Gold or boiling recommended), scrubbed well and thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
Milk or water to thin the soup, if needed
Light cream or half and half (optional)
Melt butter in a wide soup pot, then add the leeks and potatoes and cook over low heat, covered for 10 minutes.
Add 7 cups water and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are soft to the point of falling apart, about 35 minutes.
Press a few against the side of the pan to break them up and give the soup body.
If needed, thin the soup with milk and heat through.
Taste for salt, season for pepper and serve.
I like to go the extra step and put the soup through a food mill. (I don't use an immersion blender for this one, as the potatoes get gummy pretty quickly.) Then, if you're feeling a bit decadent (or even if you're not), add 1/4-1/2 cup of cream or half and half. Serve with finely chopped chives and parsley. (Chilled, it's vichyssoise.)
Adapted from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
4 cups chopped and rinsed leeks (white part only) (5-6 leeks)
1 celery rib, peeled and chopped
1 russet potato, peeled and finely diced
sea salt/fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups water
1 pkg. potato gnocchi (found in the frozen food dept.--I found mine at Whole Foods.)
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
1 cup finely slivered scallion including an inch or two of the greens
Saute the leeks, potato, and celery with about a tsp. of salt until the leeks have softened.
Add the wine and cook until the wine is almost all gone.
Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 20 min.
Add some pepper. Puree a cup of the soup and return to the pot. (Because there was only one potato in this, I risked using the immersion blender and pureed the whole batch, roughly.) If feeling decadent, you can add whole milk or half and half. (I did and did not regret it.)
Meanwhile, cook the gnocchi in salted water, 4-5 minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
Saute the slivered scallion in the butter until just wilted.
Stir the scallions into the soup.
Add a few gnocchi to each bowl when you serve the soup.