To quote Elizabeth Gilbert, since living in France, “I’ve been doing rude things to my body.” However, it seems unlikely that this leek and potato soup will help.
While Liz made sweet love to pizza and pasta and gelato in Rome over the course of four months in her book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, I have now been residing in France for over a year, and have decided enough’s enough.
France is unabashed when it comes to fatty, heavy, happy food and I’ve been crowing in delight about it, enjoying tartiflette, tarte tatin and charcuterie, not to mention last week, I sampled the local delicacy of cassoulet which is full of creamy white beans, Toulouse sausage and confit duck (apparently one meat per dish isn’t enough here). My meat and cheese intake has reached a crescendo – until yesterday there were six varieties of cheese in the fridge which, within a day, we’d depleted down to two – and all this gluttony came to my attention only recently as I’ve been drunk on cheese and meat fumes for the last few months.
Meanwhile, don’t get me started on butter. Gaylord and I have a habit of Sunday croissants which we will often repeat on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, you get the picture. One of us will traipse to the boulangerie, buy the ‘obligatory’
pain au chocolats chocolatines and also a ‘treat’ to share. I returned home carrying a bag of croissants, one with stripes like a zebra, which (unlike a zebra) was bursting with molten Nutella which flowed like the crush of a river behind a dam.
Then Gaylord, a few days later, came back with a chocolate chip Viennoise, a buttery sweet baguette similar to brioche, with chocolate chunks still soft so they melt over your fingers. I should probably come clean to you all, and Gaylord for that matter, that I’m having an affair with French food.
We’ve now got to the point of eating the equivalent of a charcuterie board each week, narry a vegetable in sight, and even after all my damn moaning that I can’t remember the last time I consumed anti-oxidants, we’ve gone and scheduled yet another charcuterie board extravaganza at our friends’ housewarming next week.
So, to make myself feel better, I made leek and potato soup.
‘French’ leek and potato soup
I can’t even say this creamy leek and potato soup is healthy – and if its origins are French then that would explain a lot. The fact that the word ‘creamy’ is in the title kind of gives the game away.
But it’s the act of making soup – chopping the leeks, sweating them until sweet, tumbling in chunks of potato and blitzing it all so it becomes silky smooth – that is very therapeutically wholesome. Forgetting that swirl of cream at the end.
This creamy leek and potato soup is usually served cold and was first created by French chef Louis Diat in New York’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, who christened it Crème Vichyssoise Glacée after his home Vichy, in central France. So it is teccccchnically French… in the same way a Cronut is.
While Monsieur Diat intended the soup to be served chilled, it is also delicious hot, and as it is now October and I write this wrapped in a blanket, I think a steaming mug of creamy leek and potato soup is just the ticket.
After its whiz with the hand blender, traditionally – or at least at my cookery school – the soup is poured through a sieve so that the pristine result is smooth like a creamy velvet lake. It’s so thick it’s practically doing push-ups on the spoon and a mug of it, served with some baguette or crusty bread, hits the spot as a warm lunch on a cold day (for more lunch recipes, check out my series Raid the Fridge Fridays).
The anti-oxidants will make their appearance eventually. Until then there is French food and a very indulgent leek and potato soup.
Creamy leek and potato soup
- 1 onion
- 3 medium leeks
- olive oil or butter
- 2 large floury potatoes
- 600 ml chicken or vegetable stock
- 70 ml thick cream
- 120 ml milk
- Salt and pepper
- Chop the green leafy ends and the roots off the leeks, peel away the top layer and finely chop the remaining white part. Scoop the pieces into a bowl and fill with cold water. Leave to soak for a couple of minutes to remove any dirt.
- Meanwhile, finely dice the onion and then heat some olive oil or a spoonful of butter in a heavy-based saucepan.
- Drain the leeks and rinse. Tip them and the onion into the saucepan. The oil should sizzle. Sauté it all for 5 minutes and season with some salt.
- Fashion a circular lid out of greaseproof paper. Scrunch it up, run it under the tap to wet then smooth it out again – this is called a cartouche and will keep the onions and leeks soft as they cook. Place it directly over the vegetables, turn the heat to low, and cover with a lid. Cook for 5 minutes.
- Wash and peel the potatoes then chop them into cubes. Check on the cooking onions and leeks. If they are soft, sweet and moist, they are ready. If there is still a crunch to them or they aren't sweet enough, dampen the greaseproof paper lid again, cover the vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes. Keep checking every 5 minutes until the vegetables are melt-in-the-mouth soft and caramelised.
- Add the potato chunks, stir them around in the sweated vegetables then cover in the chicken or vegetable stock. Turn up the heat to bring it all to the boil, then once bubbling, lower it to medium. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are soft and break apart.
- Add the cream and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Using a hand blender, whiz everything together until smooth so that the soup becomes thick and velvety. Add the milk to loosen the mixture. Season with salt and pepper (and, if you really want to, pour it through a sieve to make sure it's really smooth! My cookery school would be proud!)
- Serve in bowls or mugs and garnish with some herbs – chives or basil are delicious options. A drizzle of truffle oil if you're feeling lavish. A sprinkle of chilli is a great pop of colour and adds a tickle of heat.