THE OTHER DAY IT WAS SO BLUSTERY AND COLD that I decided soup was in order. A nice between-season soup is the leek-potato one, and you can add fresh parsley or other greens to it just before serving to give it a fresher spring flavor. I found that I’d written a blog about it years ago, and it sounded good enough to recycle. It reminded me to sweat those leeks (awful as it sounds)! And though I was lacking stock or broth of any kind, I just used water and it was still just fine. With some bread or popovers, and perhaps a salad — I’d call it a meal fit for the season.
Fresh leeks are a glorious, yet humble, sign of spring. A few years ago, when I was visiting Cathy in California, a neighbor brought over a big bagful of freshly picked leeks, and I set to work on some leek-potato soup.
Most of this work took place around the sink, as leeks like to hold on to dirt in their layers, so they demand a lot of cleaning. Basically, you cut off the dark green leaves and the root-y bottoms, then run the rest (the white and light green parts) under running water, making sure you clean between the layers. (Alternatively, sometimes you can find trimmed, cleaned leeks in your grocery store.)
If the leeks are very fat, slice them vertically before cutting your horizontal slices.
I had never been quite happy with the texture of leeks in the soup I’ve made previously, so this time I consulted Cathy’s cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen, and these experts supplied the ultimate tip: sweat the leeks.
It’s not the most attractive term, but basically it means that you saute the slices of leeks in some oil or butter (use your judgement for how much) and then put a lid on top for 15 minutes or so. The leeks continue to cook in their own moisture, and they will become meltingly soft and intense.
Now all you need to do is to add some vegetable or chicken broth, a bay leaf and perhaps some thyme, salt and pepper, and a few potatoes — red or white or Yukon gold — cleaned and cut into about 1/2-inch dice. You can leave the skins on if you like. Cook till the potatoes are soft, then smash some of them against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.
It’s nice left chunky like this, with pieces of potato and leek in your soup bowl, or you can blend some or all of it for a silkier texture. Some minced parsley or other greens, and a dusting of Parmesan, is good just before serving.
Do not confuse a leek with a leak. If in doubt, please contact me for proofreading advice.