Blowing Hot and Cold

I’ve been uninspired to write this post, mostly because the weekend we just experienced made Punxsutawney Phil into a fat little liar.  And then today came, with a promise of freezing temperatures tonight and the specter of snow.  This is perversely appropriate then, because this Bittman recipe for Potato Leek soup is essentially vichyssoise, one of the best known chilled soups (along with Borscht and gazpacho). We had ours hot, but it is often chilled and served in small, sippable portions.

“22. Sauté leeks in butter until soft but not browned, then add cubed waxy potatoes, a little sage and stock or water to cover. Simmer until tender, puree and finish with about a cup of cream for every 6 cups of soup. Serve hot or cold, garnished with chives (if cold, call it vichyssoise).”

Here’s the line-up:

¼ cup butter

at least 3 leeks, maybe more, halved lengthwise, rinsed well to remove sand and dirt wedged between the layers, then sliced thinly into little crescent moon shapes

8 medium yukon gold potatoes, diced in smallish cubes

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock

salt and pepper to taste

6-8 sage leaves, torn or chopped

1 cup heavy cream

I can say right away that I wish I’d had more leeks for this.  My meager supply was just not enough for that unique, sweet garlic/onion flavor.  Nevertheless, I sliced them up and sautéed them in butter for that springy wonderful pale green aroma.  A tub of homemade chicken broth, the sage, and the diced potatoes followed, burbling together and permeating each other with flavor.

I let the pot simmer until a tentative fork prod proved the potatoes were tender – probably fifteen minutes – then seasoned with salt, pepper and, on a whim, a few taps of garlic powder.

I switched the heat off and let the pot cool off just until it wasn’t boiling anymore before taking my immersion blender to it.  Have you used an immersion blender?  I love mine.  It is a bright red Kitchen Aid model and I use it for blending soups and salad dressings.  I know it could also be used to whip cream or maybe even make hummus, though I haven’t yet put it through all its paces.

A few long dunks and careful swirls of the immersion blender and the chunks of potatoes became more of a mash.  Another few sessions and they transformed into a velvety soup.  Even the torn sage leaves were obliterated, leaving only a few shreds of potato skin (I never peel yukon golds) to disrupt the ivory smoothness.

When everything was well blended, I put the pot back on the heat, poured in a cup of cream, and stirred the swirls of white until the whole thing paled ever so slightly in color and the cream was completely incorporated.  It only took a few moments for the pot to rise back up to serving temperature, at which point we dipped it into bowls and sipped away.

It was smooth and hearty and rich.  It’s hard to make potatoes taste like anything but potatoes, but the additions of sage and cream and the barest onion-y flavor from the leeks came through.

I served this with a lovely loaf of dimpled rosemary foccaccia and a glass of white wine.  A thoroughly beige looking meal, but a satisfying one nonetheless.

But satisfying isn’t always enough.  This soup lacked intensity and freshness.  It was a winter meal, and my stomach, along with my skin and heart and brain, is craving spring.  So when I faced the leftovers, I felt the need for a pick-me-up.  The addition of a tablespoon or so of pesto stirred gently into the soup woke up the flavor considerably but somehow didn’t overwhelm the wholesome starchy creaminess of the potatoes.  Were I to make this soup again, pesto might become a required addition.  Or perhaps a gentle, fluffy layer of extra sharp white cheddar to blanket the top like the snow I hope does not fall on us tonight.  This was good, but it’s time for hot soup season to be over, and not yet time for cold soup season to begin.

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