As the weather finally turns cold and blustery in a way that seems to want to stick around for the rest of the winter (farewell, 60 degree days, see you in March), soup season officially begins.
For our family, Sunday is the perfect soup day. One reason is that after restocking the fridge at the farmers market on Saturday, on Sunday, I try to use up a lot of stuff left over from the week before. Clean-the-fridge soup is definitely the silent subtitle of every single Sunday soup recipe I'll be posting, which I hope will give you perfect freedom to use that wilted stalk of celery and those soft and wizened carrots. You can bet I will be doing the same.
Another reason I like to make soup on Sunday is that by the time weekend wanes, I'm exhausted from all the running around family time, and seeing friends time, and weekend projects time and whatever else it is we pack into those two hectic days. By Sunday, I just want quiet, easy, soothing food that warms my bones and pats me on the cheek in a there-there kind of way. Soup does this.
Anyway in thinking about all of this, I decided to launch a weekly blog post dedicated to whatever soup I made on Sunday. This means I will be planning on posting a soup recipe every week, all winter long. And if you feel like sharing, I'd love to know what soup you made this week too, if any.
Then when the temperature rises and the lettuces and ramps and asparagus starts to emerge, I'll put away my soup pot and kick off a Sunday Salads series or something like that. Ah, the fleeting, bittersweetness of seasonal cooking. Here today, gone tomorrow.
With no further ado, here is my recipe for Potato Leek Soup to get things going. It’s one of the most satisfying and simplest soup recipes imaginable, calling for just three basic ingredients—potatoes, leeks, and good stock. Okay, no…four in fact, because I like to use a generous amount of butter when I sauté the leeks. I’ve been known to use a whole stick of good butter (you can use much less if you want), but the real trick to spectular potato leek soup is to brown the heck out of the leeks. It’s ok if there are still some pretty, light green bits here and there, but golden leeks will contribute beautiful depth and layers of flavor to an otherwise uncomplicated soup. If you don't take the time to do this (and I'm talking about a solid 6 mintues), you risk blah soup, and there's really no need in your life for blah soup, right?
The last time I made this Potato Leek Soup I happened to have leftover turkey stock from Thanksgiving, but any variety of quality stock will do. Or use water and just add plenty of salt and a bay leaf to the pot (and lots of butter, you'll need it). I’ll occasionally throw in a stray parsnip, celery root, or turnip into the mix (remember, it's really clean-out-the fridge soup). So feel free to do the same. I also love to add a really substantial amount of freshly ground black pepper—against the starchy richness it packs a welcome wallop.
Then, as you can see in the photo, I finish the soup with a drizzle of olive oil and some moist flaky red pepper, in this case Turkish red pepper. You can skip it, or use flaky sea salt or crushed red pepper flakes instead. Or if you want to get fancy, snip some chives on the top and garnish the soup with a little dollop of creme fraiche. Then you will have achieved dinner party soup.
Also of note: I puree my soup with an immersion blender. Sometimes I strive for something perfectly smooth and velvety. Sometimes I leave lots of chunks. The choice is yours.
Potato Leek Soup
Serves 4 to 6
4 medium leeks or 2 giant ones
At least 2 tablespoons butter, sometimes I use up to 8, olive oil works too
Salt and pepper
4 large yukon gold potatoes, peeled or not
1 quart stock or water (add a bay leaf if you're using water, don't forget to remove it before pureeing)
Good olive oil and Turkish or crushed red pepper for finishing if you like
1. Clean the leeks by chopping off the dark green stems (leave the white and an inch or two of the light green). Split the leeks down the center vertically to expose all the soil trapped in the layers. Rinse well under running water. Thinly slice the leeks discarding the hairy root.
2. In a soup pot, melt the butter or heat the oil. Add the leeks and saute until golden brown all over, about 6 to 8 minutes.
3. While the leeks are cooking, slice up the potatoes.
4. Season leeks with a good pinch of salt and some pepper and add the potato slices. Add the stock or water. It should cover the veggies by at least 1/2-inch. If not, add more water. Bring to a simmer and partially cover the pot. When the potatoes are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes later, puree the soup. If it's too thick, thin it down with water or stock or cream. Taste and add more salt and pepper. If the soup tastes bland because you used water or dull stock, you can perk it up by adding some grated parmesan cheese, or some soy sauce, or a squeeze of lemon juice, or all of the above.
5. Serve plain or garnished with olive oil and red pepper.