How good is a hot bowl of soup in winter?
French cuisine has generated many of the soups we know today. A characteristic of French soups is the use a of few fresh ingredients to produce a soup that generally has a rich and creamy consistency such as pumpkin soup, broccoli soup, asparagus soup, mushroom soup, potato and leek soup etc. Soups which I am sure that most of us have cooked at one point or another – simmer vegetables with some stock until soft enough to blend and hey presto you have soup! Just make sure that you let the mixture cool down a bit before blitzing in your blender or you could end up with more work than you bargained for, and soup all over your kitchen counter rather than in your tummy as hot liquid, vibration and stem blows the lid off.
The origin of the word soup was from the old French word soupe. Soupe was a piece of bread soaked in a liquid or over which a liquid had been poured. The bread was a means for the diner to consume the liquid efficiently by sopping it up, the bread was in effect, an alternative to using a spoon. I think this explains why French onion soup is such a classic and famous French dish with its signature slices of toasted baguette covering the top of the soup to absorb the liquid. It epitomizes what a soup was originally meant to be… in the dark ages before thickening agents were used. Before bread was invented the only kind of thick soup was a concoction of grains, or of plants and meat cooked in a pot resulting in gruel or porridge like consistency. There are now many types of thick soups categorized by the type of thickening used -
• Puree soups are vegetable soups thickened with the starch contained in the pureed vegetables.
• Bisques soups are made from pureed shellfish thickened with cream.
• Cream soups are thickened with béchamel sauce or a roux, enriched with milk or cream.
• Veloute soups are thickened with eggs, butter and cream.
I’ve kicked off winter with a classic French soup - the simple but humble potato and leek soup which shows that less is more, with just a few ingredients you can create a rich and satisfying soup.
I found this recipe for potato and leek soup in the cookbook French by Damien Pignolet. Daimen reveals that the secret to this soup lies in the initial ‘sweating’ of the leeks and onions. This involves very slow cooking with a little butter in a covered pot, to release the vegetable juices.
Potato and Leek Soup
(Recipe adapted slightly from French by Damien Pignolet)
• 3 large leeks, white part only
• 60g unsalted butter
• 1 small white onion, finely sliced
• 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
• 1.5 litres light chicken stock or water
• 3 large Pontiac or other ‘old’ potatoes (~600-650g), chopped into small cubes)
• salt and freshly ground white pepper
• touch of freshly ground nutmeg
• ¼ bunch chives, finely chopped for garnish
• thickened cream to serve
Trim the leeks just above the root and wash thoroughly, checking between the layers for any trapped grit. Cut in half lengthwise and wash again, if necessary, and slice thinly. Slowly melt the butter in a heavy-based 4 litre saucepan, add the leek, garlic and onion and coat with the butter. Cover the pan and sweat really slowly until they are very soft. On no account should they brown, so stir frequently. This will take up to 20 minutes.
Add the cold stock and the potatoes, season lightly with salt and pepper, and bring to the boil. Skim the surface and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning – just a hint of nutmeg makes a big difference.
(ladle of soup, pre-blending)
Allow the soup to cool for 15 minutes before pureeing with a blender to produce a smooth texture. If the soup becomes too thick you can add in some more stock.
Serve the soup with a swirl of thickened cream on top and sprinkling of chives. The chives tend to overwhelm, so use only a teaspoon per serving.
You can add a little crème fraiche or double cream to turn this into a crème soup but I choose not to add any cream as I liked this soup just the way it was.
To make croutons
Remove the crusts from day old white bread and cut into 1.5-2cm cubes. Drizzle some olive oil over the pieces of bread and toss until the bread is evenly coated. Toast the bread in the oven for around 10 minutes or until crisp. Remove croutons from oven and set aside.
Here are some of my other soup recipes