27 February 2014

Leek & Potato Soup

Ah, the leek. It's one of those vegetables that are fairly challenging to grow because it takes a lot of patience, care, and, above all, space to succeed. I don't grow my own (a balcony is no place for a leek to grow), but I'm basically saying that I don't envy those that do. When purchasing leeks at the store, try to get the ones with as much of the white part as possible because that's essentially the part you eat. Sure, the rest has its uses (mostly for making vegetable stock), but the white part is where the flavor and consistency you're looking for lives.

Mixing leeks with potatoes and adding stock, cream, and potentially some other ingredients is called a Vichyssoise and it is apparently either a French or an American invention. There seems to be some debate regarding the fact. I don't really care; I just think it's super tasty. While a proper Vichyssoise is served cold and contains onions and no buttermilk (only cream), I like the version found here better. It's lighter, it's good both cold and hot (I prefer mine hot), and it has a certain...je ne sais quoi.

Leek & Potato Soup

1 lb leeks
1 lb potatoes
1 quart vegetable stock (preferably homemade - if not, low salt)
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk (can be substituted with a second cup of heavy cream)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
white pepper

1. Cut off the dark green parts of the leeks, leaving only the white parts (including the roots) and the light green parts.

2. Cut the leeks lengthwise all the way down to the roots, leaving about 1/2 inch. This makes them a lot easier to wash because you're going to want to get rid of the dirt that may be trapped under the outermost leaves.

3. Once cleaned, cut off and discard the roots, then cut the leeks into small pieces.

4. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the leeks and a pinch of salt.

5. Sweat over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then lower the heat to medium low and cook until the leeks are tender, about 20 minutes. Continue stirring occasionally.

6. While the leeks are cooking, peel and cut the potatoes into small pieces. Note that the potatoes brown quickly if left in the open air, so I generally soak them in water (or in the vegetable stock).

7. Once the leeks are tender, add the potatoes and vegetable stock and raise the heat to high.

8. Once the soup is boiling, turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 40 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender.

9. Remove the soup from the heat and puree with a stick blender or in a food processor. If using a food processor, be very careful as the soup is hot - placing a towel on top of the lid helps.

10. Once completely smooth, stir in the cream, buttermilk, and about 1/2 tsp of white pepper, then return to low heat. Slowly heat, stirring frequently, until hot enough to eat. Alternatively, let cool down completely and serve cool.

11. Slice some chives and sprinkle over the top. Serve with crusty bread and white wine.

The soup will last three days in the fridge or three months in the freezer. Reheat in a pot on the stove over low heat.

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