January 12, 2011

On the state of the weather

It's a cold winter that's settled on California. The first weeks of the year have been bone-chilling, with a few days smothered in fog here and there. I'm not necessarily complaining, because I don't enjoy the summers here, but growing up in a state with typically mild winters does not prepare one for a colder season than usual. It's not like we're covered in snow or anything crazy like that, but we do have rainy winters, and the dampness makes low temperatures feel even colder. The bright, clear days, though, seem to be the chilliest of all, however cheerful of an effect the sun has on the world.

So, in weather like this, I say soup is the best (and sometimes only) thing worth cooking, especially a savory soup full of sautéed leeks, chunks of russet potatoes, and fresh chives. Sometimes I'll add a few shakes of dried dill, sometimes I'll leave it out, but either way, this recipe has become a staple in my food files. There hasn't been a year since first cobbling it together that it hasn't graced the table, or some variation on it, or both.

When first looking for a potato leek soup recipe, I didn't find one that suited me as it was written, so I decided to take several recipes as inspiration and create my own, which is what you'll find below. This last batch turned out really well, so it's safe to say that the recipe has been tested often enough for it to be worthy of a post and worthy of your time in the kitchen.

Fresh chives make a big difference, adding some color to an otherwise pale looking soup and a fresh, green flavor. Quality ingredients make a big difference overall, even in a simple dish like this with fewer ingredients. Make sure your leeks are crisp and not old or discolored. They are integral in providing the base flavor. Russet potatoes are your best bet in a soup like this. Two cups of the soup are puréed and russets have a high starch content that helps to thicken and create a creamy texture, while the pieces left whole hold their shape very well.

These kinds of soups appeal to me because they're chunky and creamy without using a lot of cream, the best of both worlds, and the broth is incredibly flavorful. Leftovers also keep well, so you can warm yourself over lunch when the fog lingers.

Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from Epicurious

If you want, stir in a dash or two of dried dill when adding the stock, but don't overdo it. Dried dill is fairly strong, so it won't need much. The idea is to enhance the savory factor, not make the soup taste like dill.

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise,
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp water
1.5 lb russet potatoes (peel intact), cut into ½-in. pieces
5 cups chicken or vegetable stock
⅓ cup chopped fresh chives
½ cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy large pot, melt butter over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, and water. Sauté until leeks are golden, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 15 - 20 minutes. Transfer two cups of soup to a blender and purée until smooth. Return to pot. Stir in the chives and cream. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Rewarm over low heat before serving.

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