When I was growing up, there were certain foods that I just decided I didn't care for, without even trying them. This conclusion was generally reached through one of two extremely scientific methods: that looks yucky and that sounds gross. Twenty-something years later, equipped with a little more knowledge and a much more adventurous palate, I feel that I need to admit, once again, that mom was right (why is she always right?) Yes mom, I should have tried it because I might have liked it.
I might have liked mushrooms, which fell prey to looking unappetizing in their raw state. Nowadays, I eat sauteed herbed shiitakes and grilled juicy portobellos with glee. I might have enjoyed olives, which my dad ate out of the jar while I kept my distance. Today, I sprinkle salty Kalamatas on my Greek salad and puree briny Nicoises in tapenade. I also might have given leeks a chance, but you must agree with me that they do sound kind of gross, right?
For cooking, I actually prefer a leek to its relative, the onion, partially because they don't make you cry when you chop them. Dubbed "the gourmet's onion," leeks have a milder flavor than onions, and they are much more popular in Europe than in America. One of my favorite recipes that uses leeks extensively is this creamy-tasting potato leek soup. I say creamy-tasting because, unlike many other potato soups, this has no cream and only a little bit of half and half. This is a great soup to keep in mind as the weather starts to cool and the days become shorter. Here are some tips for this smooth and savory soup:
- To make this soup even lighter, substitute low-fat milk for the half and half and the whole milk. It won't be quite as thick or rich tasting, but it will still be very filling and delicious.
- Yukon gold potatoes will give the soup a nice golden color, and they also have a less starchy, almost buttery flavor. If you cannot find Yukon golds, then substitute russet potatoes or even red potatoes.
- This soup can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, tightly covered. I do not recommend freezing this soup, as it tends to develop a grainy texture when defrosted.
- Be sure to clean the leeks thoroughly prior to chopping. The best way to do this is to halve them lengthwise and then run them under cold water, separating the layers to get the dirt out.
- If you don't feel like fishing around the stockpot for the various rosemary sprigs, then tie them all together with some kitchen twine prior to adding them to the pot.
Makes 8-10 servings
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 stalks celery, diced
6 leeks, white parts only, thinly sliced
4 shallots, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 dried bay leaves
6 sprigs rosemary
Salt and coarse ground pepper
2 1/2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
8 cups chicken stock
1 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium stockpot. Add celery, leeks, shallots, and garlic; cook on medium-low heat until very soft, about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the bay leaves, rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper and stir to mix.
Add the potatoes and chicken stock, stir, and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Reduce to a simmer and them cook until the potatoes are very tender, about 40 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and the rosemary sprigs. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth (alternatively, transfer the mixture to a blender and puree in batches.) Place the saucepan over medium-low heat, and stir in the milk and half and half. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot.