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Kohlman: Potato leek soup is the perfect winter warm-up remedy

There is a point in winter when the house feels too cold to sit still without a cozy sweater wrapped around you, and a mug of something warm in the hands. There is a cat always finding their way into your lap. They know what’s up. The snow is heaped high on either side of the sidewalk, and the furnace chugs on, blasting heat from that dark corner of the basement. We’re in the thick of winter now, and sometimes the only way to get warm is to eat something carby and creamy — like soup.

Potato leek soup, or potage Parmentier, is a French classic. It’s one of the first dishes taught in culinary school as it’s the base soup for so many recipes. Serve it chilled and you have Vichyssoise. Add watercress and it becomes potage au cresson. You can stir in diced vegetables, for a silky veggie creation, or in my case, shredded sharp cheddar and diced bacon. There are plenty of variations on this soup, but this is a good jumping-off point.

No other vegetable requires such careful attention in the sink as the leek. It collects grit between its layers as it grows therefore you cannot get away with a just quick rinse under the tap. You’ll want to cut the dark green tops off, saving them for stock, and discard the root ends. Slice the leek in half then fan the layers open, rinsing them thoroughly under cool running water. From here, I will swish it around in a bowl of cold water just to ensure all of the grit is gone.

The leek is the onion’s more refined sister, and you want to use it when you’re going for a subtle allium flavour. Onions are known for their rugged, bold sweetness, whereas leeks are linked with gentle cooking. An onion that gets deeply browned will take on an appealing rustic note, but a scorched leek is ruined. The flesh of the leek should remain as pearlescent as possible, thereby cooking them with a gentler hand is required. No cranking the frying pan up to high heat here! Softened in butter, leeks are very pleasing with eggs, especially in a soufflé or tucked into the tender folds of an omelette. Leeks are very complimentary in fish dishes as their flavour is less overbearing than that of an onion. Think of chowders heaving with mussels and scallops. It is butter rather than oil that brings out the best of this allium family member, and another reason to keep the heat turned low. Cream is also a loyal companion. Bacon and cheese have a natural affinity with leeks too, but perhaps it is the potato that is the most prominent partner. All of these things, all together make a terrific soup. It is creamy, but not heavily so. The flavours are well-balanced, and every bite with bacon makes the heart swell with joy. With a couple of slices of buttered bread on the side, this is a fine meal for a mid-winter’s night.

Potato Leek Soup with Cheddar and Bacon

3 Tbsp butter

2 large leeks

2 garlic cloves, minced

4 cups chopped Yukon Gold potatoes

2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried thyme

1 bay leaf

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2/3 cup 18% cream

2 cups shredded extra old cheddar cheese (reserve some for garnish)

5 slices cooked bacon, chopped (reserve some for garnish)

salt and pepper to taste

1. Cut off and discard the root ends and thick dark green parts of the leeks. Cut the leeks in half lengthwise and rinse each half in cool running water, pulling apart the layers to remove any grit that is hiding inside. Swish them around in a large bowl of cold water. Once the leeks are clean, roughly chop them. You’ll get about 3 cups of chopped leeks from 2 large leeks.

2. Melt the butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in the leeks and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the leeks have softened, about 10 minutes. You don’t want the leeks to brown, just to soften and slump in the butter. If they take on too much colour, turn the heat down to low.

3. Add the potatoes, thyme, bay leaf, and broth. Generously add pinches of salt and pepper. Cover, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the potatoes are very soft.

4. Remove the soup from the heat and fish out the bay leaf. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup until it’s smooth. Put the soup back over low heat and stir in the cream, cheddar cheese, and chopped bacon. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and garnish with cheese, bacon, and thyme leaves. Makes 4 servings.


Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021

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