Monday, July 30, 2007

Soup for Many

This past weekend found me and the kids traveling to a family reunion in southwestern Pennsylvania. The reunion is for the descendants of my great grandfather. He had eleven children, of whom only the youngest is still living. She's pushing ninety, but she seems to be pretty spry for her age and she made corncob jelly to sell at this year's family auction.

Anyway, the families of each of my great grandfather's children (or at least the ones who made it to adulthood and had kids) take it in turn to organize the reunion, and this year was the year for my grandfather's family. In the past, my parents have taken a more active role, but this year, some of my cousins took the lead. My mother was responsible for one meal, and she asked my sister and I to take charge of reheating what she'd made and adding some more food. There is really no great skill involved in reheating sloppy joes or opening bags of chips or smiling while members of the extended family prepare their cole slaw or cucumber salad or whatever. By the way, if your sloppy joes are a bit on the runny side, the easiest way to handle the situation is to open up your bun and dump the beef mixture on both halves. If you then top it with cole slaw, you will understand the true meaning of "guilty pleasure." You probably won't want to do this too often, however.

Anyway, in addition to reheating Saturday lunch, I was asked to make my leek-potato soup for Friday dinner. I had made it the last time my family was in charge of the food, and people still remembered it and wanted it again. I think I did a better job this time, probably because I brought my immersion blender with me. Alas, I also appear to have left my immersion blender behind in the huge kitchen at the camp where we had the reunion. My parents said that they'd try to reclaim it, but in any case, stick blenders are not terribly expensive.

My leek-potato soup is really just the Joy of Cooking's vichyssoise. I don't call it vichyssoise because I tend to think of vichyssoise as a cold soup, and I like it much better when it's hot. (Fortunately, the mountains of southwestern Pennsylvania were nice and cool this weekend, especially after the rain, but for most people and purposes, you are better off making this soup in the winter.) Also, a lot of people omit the final consonant sound when they say "vichyssoise," and that puts me in a bad mood. Joy of Cooking has something amusing to say about this mispronunciation, but I can't quote it verbatim, so I won't try. I also can't reproduce its recipe exactly because I haven't looked at it in years. I knew that I had to make a whole lot of soup, so I picked up what I thought I'd need at the supermarket and took it with me to the camp, and the soup came out splendidly. If you don't want to make 2.5 or 3 gallons, you might want to check out Joy of Cooking for a reduced recipe.

I did want to make rather a large batch. It wasn't the only sort of soup we had Friday, and I was expecting leftovers, but it all got eaten. L., who is not known for her love of non-ramen soups, absolutely raved about the leek-potato soup. She told me that I should be making it at home, frequently.

Leek-Potato Soup

3 bunches leeks
1 very large white onion
12 ounces butter
6 large baking potatoes
4 quarts chicken broth
1 quart heavy cream

Wash the leeks well. Trim off the roots and remove the thick green leaves at the top. You don't need to remove the light green part nearer the base unless you want to. Cut halfway through the leeks, leaving the very base intact and wash again to make sure you have no sand in your leeks. Slice the leeks crosswise, about a quarter inch thick. Peel and dice the onion.

In the bottom of a very large, heavy pot, melt the butter. Add the leeks and onions, stir well, cover, and cook on low heat for about fifteen minutes, or until everything is nice and soft. You don't want anything to brown, however.

Peel your potatoes and slice them finely. Then when the alliums are nice and soft, add the potatoes and the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover again, and let cook until the potatoes are very tender. This should only take about twenty minutes, but you can cook them for a while longer without hurting anything. You're just going to blend the whole mess, anyway.

Put your immersion blender in the pot and blend the whole mess until it's as smooth as possible. Stir in the cream, taste, and add salt if necessary. Serve hot.

I think the soup is pretty much perfect if you leave it right there, but if you feel like it needs some white pepper, have at it. Also, you can snip some chives over the top if you have an aversion to white foods. If, however, you see that everyone else going through the dinner line is taking a normal soup bowl full of the soup and enjoying it the way it's meant to be enjoyed, please refrain from grabbing a serving bowl, filling it up with the soup, and then adding a large handful of grated cheddar cheese to it. One of my cousins actually did that. Right in front of me. I can only suppose that it was payback for something I did to him when we were both ten.


Blogger Zeke said...

i tried this and it was delicious! thanks, i did add chives to the soup though. I had my wisdom teeth out last week and had a week of soups, yogurt and ice cream, thanks for the great idea.
Also you might add either bacon grease or tiny slivers of bacon when cooking the onions. ( they come up mostly white anyway : )

8:16 PM  
Anonymous lindy said...

This is some outstanding soup. I have an almost endless interest in trying recipes for potato soup, and there aren't too many I don't like. The only way to ruin one, IMHO is to stray too far from the potato and onion or leek combo, tarting it up.

But one addition (not my own idea) which is truly marvelous, is the addition of a parmesan rind while the soup's burbling away. No one can ever identify the extra flavor (unless you fail to remove the rind- and it lands in someone's bowl), but it seems to get almost universal notice and approval.

So where in southwestern PA?

11:05 AM  

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