Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Let Them Eat Vichyssoise . . .

I'm back. Well, sort of. I'm out of the cast and in a very strange looking splint. The cast with it's camo design was a conversation piece, the splint on the other hand, looks far too medical for strangers to comment, instead they cross the street when they see me and The Hand approaching.

But while I was still decorated with the camo cast, the cast to end all casts, I ventured to the mountains, to Asheville to be precise, and you will be hearing much about the time I had there in the next few days, as the place filled my head and my heart. Oh, and my stomach! I had many wonderful meals in Asheville, but the best was a cold bowl of Vichysoisse on the street veranda of our hotel. I don't know if it was the best vichyssoise or if it was just the fact that my husband and I had survived a harrowing hike of 9 point something miles through Craggy Gardens Natural Area to stand at the foot of Douglas Falls. It was close to 90 degrees in the shade, the trail was a primitive fest of brutal switchbacks constructed of rocks and rhododendron roots and well, the Mountain said, "Ha!" that day. But our broken spirits, not to mention our broken bodies were restored by the simplest of things that evening - a cold creamy soup made of leeks and potatoes.

Well it's hot down here in the lowlands of North Carolina, and the heat index was just hollering for me to stay inside, crank the AC and start peeling potatoes. I chose Jacques Pepin's recipe for Basic Leek and Potato Soup from one of my favorite cookbooks, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home by Julia Child and  Jacques Pepin; a charming account of their sweet culinary friendship in which you can read of their diplomatic disagreements over certain recipes - in the case of leek and potato soups, I chose Pepin's recipe over Julia's because it had fewer steps and used chicken broth instead of water.  Please heed his strong advice to rinse the leeks well, as no one enjoys sand in their soup!

Jacque's Basic Leek and Potato Soup
(the basis for Vichyssoise, finishing instructions at the end here)

Yield: 2 Quarts
2 Tbs olive, canola, or corn oil
4 cups sliced leeks, trimmed and rinsed
1 1/2 cups sliced onion, 1-inch pieces
6 cups hot chicken stock, homemade, or low-sodium canned broth
4 cups peeled, diced potatoes, 2 inch chunks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Salt to taste, depending on the saltiness of broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Special Equipment: A large, heavy bottomed 3- or 4-quart saucepan with cover

Heat the oil in the saucepan, stir in the leek and onion pieces, and saute for about 5 minutes over moderate heat, to soften.

Add the chicken stock and potato chunks, and season with salt to taste and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, cover the pan, and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle boil. Cook for  about 20 minutes, until the potatoes are quite tender.

Mash, blend, or puree it to the desired consistency and adjust the seasonings. Serve the soup right away, or set aside until serving time . . .  this is where you can turn to page 56 for variations, and in our case we are going for Chilled Vichyssoisse: finely puree the soup through a food mill or other appliance - Wolfy used her kickass Oster two-speed blender for the job and was very impressed with the silky results! Then chill the soup thoroughly. Before serving, stir in 1/2 to 1 cup heavy cream or a mixture of cream and milk, and a tablespoon or two of chopped chives, and adjust the seasonings. Sprinkle more chopped chives over each serving. (Another suggestion Pepin makes is to fry up some leeks and add them as a garnish - very pretty in the photo, so Wolfy is going for the idea.)

Now, get in the kitchen, pour some lovely wine and get to work my good people of San Jose.


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