Recently, a colleague asked me if I could share a recipe for this most classic of winter soups. Soup just happened to be on my mind, having read several recent articles and recipes looking for some new inspiration, so I was happy to oblige.
Leeks and potatoes are quintessential winter vegetables which work well together in a variety of slow cooked or braised dishes where maximum flavor is coaxed out of them. This standard easy-to-prepare soup yields loads of flavor with using only a few ingredients, and improves after a day or two of rest in the refrigerator allowing time for the flavors to blend and develop.
In perusing my cookbook library, most of the books devoted to French cuisine contained a recipe for this dish in one form or another. Other books featured variations from the more traditional adaptations of cream-based preparations such as Vichyssoise to more rustic interpretations.
I prefer a more rustic soup, one in which more leeks are used than potatoes, the potatoes remain unpeeled, the base stock is made from the outer leaves trimmed from the leeks, and the finished soup is thickened by pureeing some of it using an immersion mixer without adding any cream.
So here is my take on this winter soup standard that will yield 8 generous portions and take a total of approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes to prepare.
6 large leeks
3 to 4 bay leaves
1 to 2 center celery stalks cut from the top with leaves
3 to 4 parsley stalks with leaves
3 to 4 sage sprigs, thick stems removed
3 to 4 thyme sprigs
3 generous tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons of butter
5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
4 medium potatoes, thinly sliced
12 to 15 cups of stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
Trim any large damaged outer leaves from the leeks along with cutting off the tops from the leaf end leaving only the white and light green leaves attached at the root end.
Note: Save one or two large leaves to be used with the herb bundle.
For my base broth I thoroughly washed and chopped all the trim and added it to a stockpot filled with 24 cups of water along with a generous handful of parsley stems and 3 to 4 Parmesan rinds. Boil the water, then reduce to a simmer and cook the broth while preparing and assembling the remainder of the ingredients. The broth is done when all the leek trim has softened and sunk to the bottom of the pot. Drain and set the broth aside for use in making the soup.
Cut the trimmed leeks in half lengthwise, keeping them attached at the root end. Run them under cool water, spreading the leaf layers to loosen and remove any sand or grit that may be hidden there. Next, very thinly slice the leeks across the length and set aside.
Using the large reserved leaves, wrap and securely tie all the fresh herbs within, to be used as a sachet or bouquet garni to add fresh herbal flavor to the soup.
In a large stockpot heat the olive oil over medium to high heat and melt the butter. Once gently sizzling, add the cut leeks, season with salt and pepper, and stir frequently to coat. Sauté, stirring often until the leeks begin to soften and take on some color. The volume will shrink by more than half and the leeks will begin to caramelize. At this time add the minced garlic, stirring to combine into the sauté.
Nestle the herb sachet in the center of the pot and add 12 cups of the prepared stock or water. Bring the stockpot to a boil then reduce to a simmer.
Next add the sliced potatoes, mixing to combine and simmer the soup until the potatoes have softened and begin to break apart. At this point the soup is done and can be served; however a few more steps can be taken.
If you would like, cream could be added to the pot at this time and stirred in to combine, or it could be drizzled over the individual serving bowls. My preference, however, is not to use cream, or crème fraiche, or yogurt at all but instead take an immersion mixer and puree some of the soup directly in the stockpot to thicken and smooth the overall finished texture. If the pureed soup seems a little too thick, some additional base stock or water can be added. Check and correct the seasoning before serving.
The soup can be served on its own although it lends itself to any number of garnishes. Minced chives would be the classic garnish, although minced parsley, pan-roasted scallions, toasted croutons, or even a tangle of micro greens can all be floated in the bowl.
So there you have it: a hearty flavorful soup recipe, that combines simple ingredients that can be prepared quickly, making it a great lunch or a starter for a dinner meal. Give it a try before the winter season ends—it will become one of your go-to soup recipes.
Eat well. Be well.
One of the best things about cooking is that it is an ongoing learning experience.