Ah, soup weather in New England. The air in Salem is finally turning a little colder, at least in the evenings. There are few things I love more on a nippy night than having a steaming pot of soup bubbling merrily away on the stove.
For this soup, I started with Julia Child’s famous Potato Leek Soup—the same basic Potage Parmentier that transported Julie Powell at the beginning of her Julie & Julia Project.
And I can see why. The fact that you can coax a bagful of regular ole potatoes and pointy leeks into a such a velvety, luxurious soup is kind of unbelievable. That’s a special kind kitchen magic.
Of course, it’s hard to argue with Julia’s recipe. It’s simple and delicious. But autumn’s coming, you know. Which means I’m inclined to toss bacon into everything I responsibly can.
For this version, I used a combination of butter AND cream, instead of one or the other. I garnished the soup with crispy bacon cooked with fresh thyme. I deglazed the bacon with a little cognac—then drizzled a little extra into the serving bowls for good measure.
The results were absolutely sublime.
This soup is thick, creamy, and slightly smokey. You can do without the cognac, but a little splash before serving gives the soup an extra punch of warmth, flavor, and downright decadence.
For a budget version of this soup, omit the cognac and the bacon. You’ll still wind up with a pot of stick-to-your-ribs, creamy yumminess.
Serve it with a few hunks of crusty garlic bread.
How to clean leeks
Don’t skip this step. It doesn’t take long, and if your leeks are really dirty it can totally spoil your soup.
Leeks are like onions, and have layers that trap and hold grit easily.
This means you have to rinse the filthy little beasts well before using them. In case you don’t know how, I’ve included instructions on how to clean them. It’s really easy.
Oh, one quick note on pureeing hot soup
This soup is pureed. You can accomplish that a number of ways.
With a blender (which can be messy, what with transferring the hot soup to and from the blender).
With a couple of forks or a potato masher (for a rougher textured, more rustic soup).
Or with an immersion blender (for an easy, practically mess-free, smooth puree).
Now, normally, I’m not one to go in for a lot of specialized kitchen gadgets. But, hands down, my immersion blender is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen.
It’s basically a stick with blender blades on one end, and it works just like a powerboat motor. Drop it in the drink, turn it on, and puree away.
I can’t say enough about mine. I use it all the time for sauces and soups. It makes weeknight soup making really easy. You can pick up a similar Cuisinart model for just about $30 on Amazon.
OK. To the kitchen!
Potato Leek Soup
4 cups white potatoes, peeled and cut into small dice
3 cups leeks, cleaned and finely sliced (1-2 leeks, depending on their size)
7 cups water
1 Tbls. kosher salt
3 Tbls. butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp. ground white pepper
2-3 slices of bacon, diced
1 tsp. fresh thyme, minced
2 Tbls. cognac + more for garnish
fresh parsley, minced, for garnish
Clean the leeks
Skip right on ahead if you know how to do this. Otherwise, grab your leeks.
Nip off the root ends.
Whack off a few inches at the green end.
Then slice each leek lengthwise down the center, like this.
You’ll see all those layers, and depending on how dirty your leeks are, you may see why you need to clean them.
Rinse each half under cold running water.
Spread the layers apart a little with your fingers, so the water can run between them.
Pat them dry with paper towels, then slice them into thin half moons.
Repeat with the rest of your leeks until you have about 3 cups. (This is one of those recipes that’s forgiving and kind of imprecise. Don’t make yourself nuts if you have a little over or under.)
Peel and dice the potatoes
Dice your potatoes on the small side.
As a general rule, I’m not much for measurements like “a quarter inch dice,” because I’m not sure I’d ever bust out a ruler in the kitchen to double check my work. (Though, admittedly, there are times when precision matters.)
For this recipe, cut your potatoes about the size of a piece of Bubble Yum. Basically, you just want them small enough that they cook evenly and relatively quickly.
Here’s one on the end of my 10-inch butcher’s knife.
Simmer the potato leek soup
Put the leeks and potatoes in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the water.
Toss in the salt.
Give it a stir to combine. Then bring it up to a boil over high heat.
Once it boils, drop the heat to medium and cover the pot, leaving the lid cracked (so the soup reduces as it cooks). You want the heat high enough so that you maintain a simmer.
Simmer for about 45 minutes.
Puree and finish the soup
After about 45 minutes, the liquid should have reduced some and the veggies should be fork tender. It will be fairly watery and sad looking, though your kitchen should smell heavenly.
Take the soup off the heat.
Puree the soup however you like (with an immersion blender, traditional blender, or potato masher) until it’s smooth.
If you’re using an immersion blender, be sure the soup is deep enough to cover the blades (otherwise it will splatter all over). If it isn’t, just tip the pot a little.
Add the butter, cream, and white pepper. Stir until well combined. Cover it up while you make the bacon garnish.
Garnish the soup, serve, and enjoy!
Dice the bacon up and put it in a frying pan over medium-high heat. Stir in the minced thyme. Stir to combine.
Fry the bacon until it’s crisp.
Deglaze the pan with 2 tablespoons of cognac. (Be careful, there will be a poof of steam.) Scrape at the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen all those flavorful brown bits.
Cook for another minute over medium-high heat, stirring until most of the liquid evaporates. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
To serve, drizzle a little cognac in the bottom of each soup bowl. Use a tablespoon or two per bowl, depending on your taste. (If you’re unsure on this part, start with less.)
Fill bowls with soup. Garnish with crisp bacon and chopped parsley.
Check out a reader’s twist on this recipe
Update�October 21, 2009�Take a peek at Annelle’s take on this recipe. (She added cheese!)