Potage Parmentier

Winter has arrived in DC in the form of a cold snap (eff you, 20 degrees) and some trace amounts of snow this past Wednesday and coming this afternoon.  With these events has also arrived my desire to either hibernate or make a lot of stews and soups.  Since I can’t rightly do the former, I’ll stick to the latter.

Perusing the Farmer’s Market in Falls Church this weekend, I came across some beautiful leeks.  Feeling the cold in the air, I quickly decided to grab 2 bunches with a lovely, luxurious soup on my mind.  We made our way through the rest of the market, I picked up a few more ingredients, and then we went home to warm up with coffee and blankets.  I let the leeks sit in the fridge, almost forgotten until I went o a physical therapy appointment on Tuesday morning.  After crossing the ice planet Hoth (i.e. the 2-block walk to the office), I resolved to make those leeks into something to take the chill out of my bones.

Enter potage parmentier – potato leek soup.  It’s so deliciously simple that it should be a staple of everyone’s winter diet.  And if you live in a tropical environment there’s vicchyssoise – a cold version that’s just as lovely.  Each time I cook this soup, I channel the spirit of Julia Child because her recipe is still the best.  I’ve tweaked it a little over the years, but it’s more of an homage to her than a change on perfection.  I also usually conjure up this SNL skit whenever I make a JC recipe, as it’s so hilariously perfect.

The recipe is so basic, and I’m pretty sure you can find all the ingredients just about anywhere in the world.  I found leeks on a regular basis in the D.R., and while no one there knew what to do with them, I savored each opportunity I had to work with them, as they are one of my very favorite vegetables.  Here’s what you need:

  • 3 leeks, trimmed and thoroughly washed, then thinly sliced (white and light green parts only)
  • 4-5 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch half moons
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, divided
  • water
  • 1 pint good vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup light or heavy cream
  • fresh chives, chopped (for garnish)

JC’s recipe calls for you to throw all the ingredients in a pot, cover them with water and stock, and simmer for 30-45 minutes to cook the potatoes through, then blend it in batches (or hit it with an immersion blender) to purée it.  I prefer to slowly sautée my leeks, covered, in 5 Tbsp butter and a generous pinch of salt for about 20 minutes before adding the potatoes, water, and stock.  This brings out some of the sweetness of the leeks, and makes their presence a little more forward in the dish. Your mileage may vary.  Whichever method you use, you’ll want to finish the now-creamy soup with some cream and the remaining butter while adding salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.  Ladle out into bowls, garnish with the chives, and serve with a good crusty French bread (boulés are a better choice than baguettes here).

For the vichyssoise, you can follow all the same steps, but skip the cream until serving time.  You definitely want to add the last bit of butter an incorporate it into the soup, however.  Let it cool to room temperature, then chill overnight in the fridge.  When ready to serve, let it sit for about an hour, add the cream and mix well.  Ladle into bowls, and garnish with chives, as above.  You may also want to consider garden or field cress as a garnish, as its peppery flavor complements the soup nicely.

As I roll through my winter repertoire, I’ll try to update this site with some of the soups and stews I concoct.  Everyone should have a few good winter dishes under their belt to survive these long, cold days until Spring finally arrives.