Balanced, earthy, no fuss comfort food: potato leek soup is one of the simple classics that helps get me through winter.
Several years ago I was fortunate enough to be offered a retreat at a friend’s family home in the Ardeche. No internet, no car, but French radio and a stunning view.
The ancient house had thick fortress like walls and large windows with heavy wooden shutters. Flanked by cypress, it sat up on a hill surrounded by carefully tended vineyards.
It was a short walk down the hill into the tiny village. One cafe, six churches, two bakeries, and a small market— its narrow aisles crammed with local cheese and wine, winter vegetables and butter: cultured butter, richer (but not in a flashy new world way) than its American cousins, with a soft tang and grassy undertones. My favorite was flecked with fleur de sel; tiny briny bursts of sea salt suspended in velvety cream.
Meals were simple. For breakfast, fresh baguette smeared with a bit of butter and honey from the comb of the bees that had built their hive against the glass of one of the upstairs windows. The bees were long gone, whisked away by a bee whisperer who had seduced their queen, but their nectar remained. Lunch, I’ll confess, was usually wine or coffee.
The dinners? There were buckwheat crepes and sometime sandwiches but the dinner I remember, the one that makes me miss those golden hours most, was potato leek soup. A reminder of how the simplest things done well and with attention are often the things we carry with us for comfort in darker hours. That soup, balanced, earthy, stippled with Herbs de Provence, and garnished with a thick pat of the butter that I sent rapturous texts home about, seemed then, and now, to be perfect. I can still close my eyes and taste each bite, see the slow curl of steam rising off my spoon and outside the valley and village aglow with the setting winter sun, I hear the slow ticking of the kitchen clock, and feel the warmth of a meal prepared by me and for me spreading from my mouth, to my chest, to my fingers.
Variations and such
I use chicken broth for the liquid if I have a quart of homemade in the freezer, I don’t even thaw it but throw the whole chicken stock popsicle in with the sautéed leeks and potatoes. But sometimes there is no chicken broth, so veggie stock or even plain water will work.
The garnish is usually some croutons, for crunch, along with a dollop of yogurt and some minced greens like parsley or chives.
The basic, no real recipe, soup varies too. Sometimes there are more leeks, sometimes more potatoes. Today I added some dry sherry at the end but you don’t have to. Want it thicker use more potatoes.Want it thinner, use fewer potatoes. Blend it all or don’t blend at all. Use this as a starting point.
Simple, Stress-Free Potato Leek Soup
- 1 Tablespoon butter
- 1 Tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 4-6 cups cleaned and chopped leeks
- 5-6 cups peeled and chopped potatoes; I used a mix of Yukon golds and russets
- 1 quart chicken broth (you can sub veggie broth or even plain water )
- 1-2 tsps. dry Herbes De Provence (or sub equal parts rosemary, sage, and thyme)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp dry sherry (optional but delicious)
- In a large pot, cook the leeks with the olive oil and butter over a low heat, until the leeks are soft but not browned about twenty minutes. I was doing other things in the kitchen like prepping the rest of the ingredients for the soup and emptying the dishwasher while I cooked the leeks.
- Add the potatoes and the broth and bring to a simmer. Add half of the Herbes de Provence. Cook until the potatoes are tender, another twenty of thirty minutes. Add the remainder of the herbs and then puree the soup, using an immersion blender if you have one, to your desired consistency. I like my soup mostly smooth but don’t mind if there are a few whole pieces of leek or potato. If you don’t have an immersion blender you might want to let the soup cool a bit before blending.
- Return the soup to the heat and add the sherry. If the soup is too thick you can thin it with a bit of water as well. Give the soup another ten minutes or so over a super low heat while you prep the rest of the meal. On my glass top electric stove this means turning the burner off but leaving the soup on the still quite warm burner.
- Garnish as desired and serve with baguette and a green salad.