A winter’s worth of warmth
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Just because the Pacific Northwest didn’t get caught up in January’s punishing “polar vortex” weather system doesn’t mean those who live in warmer climes are sipping mojitos on their verandas quite yet.
Although Washingtonians are experiencing toastier afternoons since the sun decided to occasionally come out and play, as soon as that yellow orb in the sky disappears from view, the winter chill quickly sets back in, reminding us that we’ve still got a way to go before turning our heaters off and transitioning into spring.
What this means for those of us who like to cook is that it’s still full-on soup season, and it probably will be for at least another couple of months (hopefully not more).
I’ve made enough batches of chicken soup this season to satiate my inner Jewish grandmother, but have also felt the need to branch out. After Christmas, for example, I made my first-ever batch of split pea soup from the leftover ham (and hambone) that remained from the holiday feast. It was salty, savory and delicious and kept our small household fed for nearly a week.
After the latest overnight freeze, I noticed the remaining leeks in the garden were looking dirty and a little droopy, and resolved to use them up before they went to waste. Potato and leek soup seemed like just the ticket.
It turns out I needn’t have worried about the state of the cold-hardy vegetables. When I returned home on a recent evening after a harrowing day in which my wallet was lost, then found, then joyously returned to me, dusk had already settled in when I went to pull the long green stalks from the ground, making it unclear what kind of shape they were in.
Once I got the leeks inside and peeled back a few leaf sheath layers, I saw that what remained was in perfect condition. After clipping the roots off the bottom and giving the specimens a thorough rinse, the green-and-white stalks gleamed and nary a blemish could be found.
I’d perused a variety of potato and leek soup recipes, and settled on one that used ingredients I had (mostly) on hand. I figured I’d start simple, and if I liked the result of what I’d made, I’d look more closely at recipes that integrated additional ingredients such as bacon, peas, carrots, parsley and assorted fresh herbs (there are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan recipes out there to be found).
From the time I harvested the leeks to the time we sat down to dinner, about an hour had passed. The recipe was easy to follow, and the results were both pleasing and comforting. The soup was creamy, but not too much so, and the earthy flavor of the leeks shone through.
The following night, I diced and sauteed a couple chicken sausages and added them to the mix, along with some fresh thyme. That, too, was a success—in other words, our bowls were empty, and our stomachs were full.
Potato Leek Soup
3 tablespoons butter
3 leeks, thinly sliced (clean thoroughly)
1 medium or large onion, chopped
6-8 russet potatoes, thinly sliced (peeled or unpeeled)
3 1/2 cups chicken or veggie broth (or enough to barely cover potatoes)
1 cup heavy cream
salt to taste
fresh ground black pepper to taste
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat, then add onions and leeks. Cook, stirring, until onions are limp and just slightly brown.
Add sliced potatoes to saucepan then pour in enough broth to just barely cover the potatoes. Continue cooking over medium heat until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, mash and stir potatoes until desired consistency is reached. As you mash the potatoes and the soup thickens, turn down heat and stir frequently with a large spoon to prevent scorching on the bottom.
Add one cup of heavy cream (or more if you desire) and salt and black pepper to taste. Cook 15 minutes more over low heat, stirring frequently, then remove from heat and serve.
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