This revamped classic, flecked with fresh herbs, hides a delicious addition
My dentist said, “soft foods only for a couple of days.” Who was I to argue? For me that meant making both the best macaroni and cheese ever, and soup.
But which soup?
In fall and winter my mom often made a terrific and comforting potato-leek soup. Bingo: perfect for cold weather and just what the dentist ordered. But I have no recipe from mom. A wonderful cook, she rarely used recipes and when she did, she deviated every time, giving each dish her personal flair. So I had to come up with my own.
Looking at various recipes online, I realized most versions of potato-leek soup are solid… and boring and a little bland. Most are also ridiculously simple, which is certainly a plus, but little time is taken at the start to prep the ingredients to insure the soup has depth of flavor. Many versions do no prep, instead throwing raw leeks, potatoes and onion in a pot with broth, boiling, then blending… easy, yes but, again, bland and a bit lifeless. I wanted to see if I could liven it up without taking the comfort out of the dish. After a little experimentation, here’s a fresh yet rich version of the classic.
Freshness is key… so this version is flecked with fresh herbs and the bright addition of acid at the end. While you can indeed ‘throw everything together in the pot,’ if you’ll take some time at the start to gently sauté your vegetables, you’ll get much more flavor. Homemade broth always elevates and, if you like mushrooms, the addition of both mushroom broth and sautéed mushrooms makes the soup meatier and more fulfilling while remaining meatless (and even vegetarian if you use vegetable broth.)
Note: If you don’t like mushrooms, skip that step. This recipe is great anyway. If your problem with mushrooms is more the consistency rather than the taste, you can still use the mushroom broth for a greater depth of flavor. If you don’t have any mushroom broth in the freezer (you really should) you can easily make a quick version while you prep and sauté your vegetables. Start the mushroom broth first, then chop and sauté the vegetables while it simmers.
Finally, as good as this soup is the day you make it, a night sitting in the fridge pushes the soup into the stratosphere. So save some for the next day and enjoy even more!
POTATO LEEK SOUP (will serve 8 as a main course)
Ingredients for the SOUP
1 stick butter
6 leeks, white parts only, sliced thin (see note)
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 stalks celery (and leaves!!) chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine
about 3 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on, cubed
leaves from 10 sprigs thyme
2 bay leaves, crushed in your hand
1 T salt
2 t white pepper
2 t black pepper
2 cups mushroom broth (click for a quick, easy recipe)
1 cup cream
juice of 1/2 a lemon or a few shakes of red wine vinegar
Ingredients for the CROUTONS
1 small ciabatta loaf
salt and black pepper
Ingredients for the SAUTÉED MUSHROOMS
2 T butter
a couple of boxes of your favorite mushrooms (crimini work great here, but I love a mixture as well)
1 shallot, chopped
dry vermouth or white wine
fresh thyme leaves
salt, white pepper, cracked black pepper
Directions for the SOUP
Sauté the leeks, onion and celery in butter on low, about 10 minutes. It should look kind of like a thick butter soup with a bunch of vegetables. Yum. (If you have time, 5 or 10 more minutes adds more flavor.)
Add the sliced garlic, salt and white pepper. Sauté, still on low, for another few minutes.
Add the vermouth, about 2/3 of the thyme and bay leaves. Continue to cook another 5 minutes.
Add the potatoes. Cook 5 more minutes at least, stirring occasionally. The butter and vermouth should be pretty much coating the potatoes, so you don’t want the potatoes to stick or burn.
Add the broths, bring to a boil, then simmer on low for 45 minutes. The potatoes should be soft and falling apart.
(While the soup simmers it’s a good time to make croutons, if you want them – and you do. And also the mushrooms. See below.)
When the potatoes are soft, use an immersion blender to puree completely. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use your blender. ** Just remember when food is hot you want to cover your blender lid with a towel and push down or it will explode everywhere! I can tell you from experience you don’t want this to happen…
Add the heavy cream, the rest of the thyme (chopped marjoram is also a great addition here) and the black pepper. Taste – you may need more salt and white pepper, also. Mix and let simmer another 15 minutes. Add the lemon juice or red wine vinegar and stir to combine.
If you’re using the mushrooms, put a scoop of the mushrooms on the bottom of your soup bowl, then ladle over the soup. Sprinkle fresh chives and a few croutons over the top.
Directions for the CROUTONS
Preheat your oven to 400.
Cube the ciabatta loaf. Toss the cubes with a few hearty pinches of salt and black pepper. Don’t be shy. Drizzle over some olive oil. Toss. You want the cubes to have olive oil all over them but not be swimming in the oil.
Roast in the oven for 10 minutes. Check the croutons. They made need a few minutes more to get nice and crisp.
Directions for the MUSHROOMS
Add a glug of olive oil to a deep pan or dutch oven. Throw in your mushrooms and toss to combine. Turn the heat to high and cover. During this initial process the mushrooms will release a lot of water. Stir once or twice but keep covered. Once there is a lot of water in the pan (usually about 8-10 minutes) uncover, turn down the heat and add the shallot. Simmer about 5 minutes, then add your dry vermouth or white wine, and the thyme leaves. Cook down a little more, adding some salt and white pepper. The mushrooms are ready when soft and flavorful and most of the liquid has been absorbed. (You can always add more wine, or a little water, if you need more liquid before they are done.)
*NOTE ON LEEKS
In general, you only cook with the white part of the leek, at the bottom. Maybe just a little of the light green part but not much. So look for leeks at the store that have a lot of white. If you can’t find those, get a few more leeks. You want at least a cup, if not more, of sliced white leeks. Also make sure you wash after you slice them… there can be dirt inside the layers of leek.
Roughly chop the green stalks and throw in the freezer to use the next time you make stock… you could even throw one in the mushroom stock!