Sloughing Off

I've been meaning to post about Potage Parmentier for a while now... It's the fancy name for leek and potato soup, another one of those recipes I mention often without any precision... Anyhoo, it may seem a little odd to be writing about leek and potatoes when we are all getting ready for true spring fare -if we haven't already begun to do so- but it is actually a fitting dish for early spring: I'm sure we are all familiar with Spring's manic diva ways -throwing all kinds of meteorological tantrums our way, so that we can never be sure when we can put away our winter layers. Well, leek and potato soup, like a good boy scout/girl guide, is always at the ready to be enjoyed hot or cold. Also, it's a great way to clear away the winter strays...

Potage parmentier (named after Auguste-Antoine Parmentier, the man who promoted the idea of using potatoes as a food in Europe) is the moniker used for the hot version, often mistakenly called Vichyssoise (named after the spa town of Vichy), a name that should only be used for the cold version of the soup. Serving temperature aside, there is one other glaring difference between the two soups: vichyssoise is always a smooth and creamy soup, whereas parmentier can either be a rustic, chunky broth (with or without milk), or a rich, smooth and silky cream soup.

Hot or cold, leek and potato soup is delicious, and makes good use of two vegetables that are all too often overlooked. Leeks and potatoes are available year-round in many guises, and making this soup throughout the year becomes an exercise in savouring the seasons: mild and tender spring/summer leeks with waxy new potatoes are beautiful in a rustic, chunky version, whereas robust autumn leeks paired with starchy potatoes shine most as a luscious cream.

Leek and Potato Soup
Serves 4

2 large leeks, about 454g/ 1 lb
4 medium potatoes, more or less 600g/ 1½lb
2 Tbs butter or oil
1 tsp or 5 sprigs thyme
1 onion and clove of garlic, optional
salt and pepper
cold milk, water, or stock
Cream and chopped parsley or scallions/ spring onions, for garnish

Top and tail leeks. Remove the first outer layer.
Separate the white part from the green top: discard the dark green leaves, keeping only the tender, pale inner leaves. Rinse the greens thoroughly under cool running water.
Chop the leeks -finely, if you are making a broth.
If you are making a creamy soup, peel and cube the potatoes, otherwise, they can be left unpeeled.
Chop and peel onions and garlic, if using.
In a large pot, melt butter or heat oil. Add leeks (and onion and garlic) and thyme, and leave to sweat it out, until completely wilted and some bits barely begin to colour.
Add the chopped potatoes, and enough liquid to cover. 
*Even if you want a rich dairy flavour, start by adding cold water to the pot (at least 1cupful): the water acts as a barrier between the pot and the milk, and it is less likely to stick.
After a good boil, the milk may appear to have curdled, however it is only the potato's starch binding with the milk. If you have an aversion to boiled milk, you can cook the vegetables in water or broth, and add milk or cream just before serving.*
Bring up to a gentle simmer, cover, and leave to bubble away until the potatoes are cooked.
Adjust the seasoning.
If you want a cream soup, it needs to be blended while it is still hot, otherwise the potatoes will go gummy: be careful not to get burned! Add more liquid, if necessary, to help with the blending.
For an extra smooth soup, it can be passed through a sieve to remove the larger bits of leek fibre.
Serve hot or chilled, garnished with a drizzle of cream and a sprinkling of chopped parsley or scallions.

Bon app'!


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