Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Creamy Leek and Potato Soup with Bacon

We are having an unseasonably warm winter this year. Need I bother to say that I am not at all happy about it? All right, yes, I agree that it has been beautiful outside in this 30 and 40-degree (even 50 on some days!) weather, but it makes it difficult to know how to dress for the day. If I take my usual late January/early February attire, I get overheated almost immediately. But if I dress for the weather, I end up cold in the mornings and the late afternoon. I feel like such a killjoy every time someone comments on how lucky we have been this winter. I am not happy about it, and I know I am not alone.

Another thing that suffers in this abnormally warm weather is my winter cooking. It has been rare so far that I have felt the urge to make those slow-cooking, hearty, it's-below-zero-outside comfort dishes that I wait all year to make. This year I have been making pimento cheese, salsa, frittatas, and stir fries. Ok, I am happy about the stir fries, but I would be happier to be interspersing them with carnitas, stews, chicken and dumplings, and hearty soups. But alas, that is not to be.

But winter is not over yet, and Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow so it looks like we are in for at least six more weeks of it. From a cooking perspective, that makes me happy, even if his accuracy rate is only 39 percent. It could happen!

So it is a little late in the season that I have made my first winter soup. It is not a true winter soup, however, as I did not roast any vegetables. But I had a beautiful leek and a pound of baby yukon gold potatoes and a last little bit of bacon ends in the freezer, and they were just begging to be put together, and soup seemed the best way to do that.

I had originally bought the leek because I had a vague thought of making a leek and potato tart with some gruyere cheese I needed to use, but the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of making a nice creamy soup.

It was a wise decision. The leek was the perfect foil for the potatoes, and the bacon added just the right amount of smoky goodness and a little bit of texture. This was delicious for dinner the day I made it, and traveled well to work for lunches the rest of the week.

Normally, I would have peeled and diced the potatoes and cooked them with the leeks, but these were baby potatoes and it would not have been an easy job to peel them. Instead, I cooked them whole in a separate pan until they were just getting tender, drained them, let them cool for a few minutes, and slipped the peel right off of them. Then I put them into the pan with the leeks and broth and cooked them until they were tender enough to blend. I wrote the recipe for larger potatoes, which is what I would usually use for this kind of dish, but any kind of potatoes will work.

This is rich, hearty soup that takes less than an hour to prepare. Perfect a winter evening. Add a salad and a crusty country bread and you have a delicious, satisfying meal.
Home Cookin Chapter: My Recipes

Makes 4 main or 6 side servings

1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
4 ounces bacon, diced
1 leek, split, rinsed well and thinly sliced
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/4 cup marsala wine or sherry
1/4 cup heavy cream
Balsamic truffle vinegar for garnish (optional)

Heat oil in 4-quart saucepan. Add bacon and cook until the fat has rendered out and the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and put on a paper-towel covered plate. Set aside.

Remove all but 2 Tbsp of the bacon grease from the saucepan. Add the leeks and cook until wilted, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and the potatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook,
covered, until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 15 minutes.

Using either a stick blender, a regular bender, or a food processor, puree the leek and potato mixture until it is smooth. Return to the heat and bring it back to a simmer.

Add the sherry and the cream and remove from the heat. Add the bacon, reserving some for garnish. Serve garnished with bacon bits and balsamic truffle vinegar.


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