Six modest ingredients—potatoes, leeks, cream, parsley, salt and water—produce a flavorful first course for a simple meal in my take on Julia Child’s classic potato leek soup. Recipe below.
As much as I love Thanksgiving, I’m always kind of happy to see it in the rear view mirror. Every year, it seems to become a bigger orgy of culinary excess and overload. And I’m not just talking gluttony here. Food magazines are taken hostage for an entire month—you’re hard pressed to find a single recipe that doesn’t include turkey, sweet potatoes or pumpkin. Ditto most newspaper food sections and online food sites. Articles and recipes abound, urging you to make this year’s feast more traditional, more alternative, more sumptuous, more festive, more more.
Our Thanksgiving dinner was wonderful, with the traditional bird and our own non-traditional traditions for sides. But when the figurative smoke cleared and I started thinking about what to post this week, I wanted something palate-cleansingly simple. Not just the finished dish, but simple in its preparation as well. Julia’s six-ingredient potage parmentier—potato leek soup—seemed just right.
Julia herself said of potage parmentier that it “smells good, tastes good, and is simplicity itself to make.” While leeks, a mild-mannered member of the onion family, represent half the produce in this soup, it doesn’t taste “oniony.” It’s just a satisfyingly big-flavored soup tasting of the garden.
In Mastering The Art of French Cooking, finally a best seller thanks to a certain movie, she makes the aforementioned six-ingredient version, then offers a few variations on it. One of the variations was the beginning for my Watercress Vichyssoise. Seeking something simpler—and warmer—this time, I returned to the original recipe. And of course I tinkered with it, but only a little.
Potage Parmentier [Potato Leek Soup]
4 to 6 first course servings
3 cups sliced leeks [2 or 3 leeks, white and pale green parts]
3 cups peeled, diced potatoes [I used Yukon Gold]
5 to 6 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus extra
3 tablespoons half & half or whipping cream
chopped parsley for garnish [or chives or scallion tops—see Kitchen Notes]
Clean and prepare leeks. Depending on the size of the leeks—specifically the white and pale green parts—you’ll need 2 or 3. Buy 3. You can always find a use for leeks. Slice off root end and most of the green tops. Slice leeks in half lengthwise. Rinse under running water, fanning layers to wash out any trapped grit. Slice crosswise in 1/2-inch pieces. If you absolutely can’t find leeks, Julia says you can substitute yellow onions. Who am I to argue?
Put leeks and potatoes in a 3 to 4-quart saucepan. Add 5 cups of water, then add another cup if needed. Leeks will float, so stir to see if you have enough water to simmer the vegetables before adding the extra cup. Julia called for 8 cups of water; to me, it seemed the resulting soup would be thinner than I wanted. As it was, the 6 cups I used made it plenty thin. Add salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 45 to 50 minutes.
Purée the soup. I used an immersion blender—you can also use a food processor. Here, Julia and I differ. See Kitchen Notes for her thoughts. With the heat off, stir in the half & half or cream. Adjust the seasoning—you’ll almost definitely need more salt. Transfer to a tureen or individual bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve.
Choose your garnish. The original recipe called for either parsley or chives. The green tops of scallions would also work if chives are hard to find. I went with parsley because I liked its fresh, slightly peppery note with this soup.
To blend or not to blend. Julia prefers a food mill to a blender [or, one supposes, the more modern food processor]. We don’t own a food mill, but are in negotiations with Santa. As an alternative, she suggests mashing the vegetables with a fork. I tried our excellent potato masher, and the results were laughable. If you don’t have a food mill, go with your processor or immersion blender.
Get a little fancier. But only a little. “To change the formula a bit,” Julia says, “add carrots, string beans, cauliflower, broccoli, or anything else you think would go with it, and vary the proportions as you wish.” Personally, I think just slightly tweaking the original is simply delicious.