14. October 2013 · Comments Off on A Few Words About the End of Summmer · Categories: Cooking, Food · Tags: , , , ,

Various types of potatoes for sale, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.So, it’s officially autumn. Once again, the calendar cycles ’round to the waning part of the year. Everything leapt into life at spring time, got busy with getting busy in the summer, and now starts to settle in, slows its pace, and prepares to hunker down for its winter slumber. I like fall because it’s the metaphorical sleepy-eyed yawn before burrowing under the covers.

With the change in seasons comes a change in food. Soft, vulnerable, fleshy fruits give way to the durable. At least if you’re eating properly for our clime. I honestly prefer canned and preserved summer produce to the stuff that’s shipped in from elsewhere, chosen more for its ability to withstand a container voyage than anything approaching flavor.

I even find winter vegetables and the shift to roots, brassicas, hard squashes and cold-frame greens comforting. They’re the beginnings of roasted, braised, stewed and deeply flavored comfort foods that make the grey days of November and the long winter night bearable.

Roasting hard winter veggies is easy. Peel and cut any combination of turnips, parsnips, carrots, waxy potatoes, yams, pumpkin, or butternut/acorn squash into 1″ cubes. Chop up enough to fill a standard 9×13″ baking dish. Throw everything in a bowl and toss with olive oil, a few healthy pinches of kosher salt, and either fresh ground black pepper or – my favorite – freshly grated nutmeg. Roast in a 450°F oven until veggies are tender and slightly caramelized, about 35-45 minutes. Yes, they will stick to the dish. When you take them out of the oven, cover the baking dish with a bit of foil and let stand for about 10 minutes. The steam will both re-moisten any dried out bits and help release everything from the bottom. You will wonder why you ever boiled root vegetables.

For major comfort food, nothing beats winter vegetable soups. Here’s a pretty simple potato and leek soup that takes less than an hour of cook time, and only requires prepping 4 ingredients. By the way, for making pureed soups, I highly recommend spending the $30 for a stick (immersion) blender. Ladling hot soup from one pot to a bar blender, and back to another pot, is not only a total mess, but a recipe for potential burns.

Cream of Potato & Leek Soup

4 large, or 6 small russet baking potatoes (about 4 lbs)
3 large leeks
2 shallots
3 stalks celery
8 oz. heavy cream
2 qts low-sodium chicken stock
3 tbsp butter
Kosher salt
1/2 tsp dried thyme

Leeks trap fine grit as they grow. If you don’t remove it, your soup will be unpleasant. Here’s a pretty simple way to dealing with the problem. Fill your sink with cold water. Remove the greens from the leeks, leaving the pale portion of the leek. Remove the first, tough outer layer. Save the greens for vegetable stock, if you desire. Trim, but do not remove, the root ends. Beginning 1/2″ from the root end, split each leek lengthwise with a sharp knife. Rotate a quarter turn and repeat. Drop into cold water, and agitate so that the layers begin to separate. Let soak while you prep your other ingredients, and swish around a couple more times as they sit.

Chop the celery into 1″ pieces. Peel, wash, and chop the potatoes into large chunks – I typically just halve each potato and chop the halves into 3/4″ pieces. Peel the shallots and slice thinly.

Drain your leeks, and rinse them under cold running water, separating the leaves as much as possible without pulling them apart. With a sharp knife, finely slice them, discarding the last 1/4″ or so of the tougher root end.

Place a large soup-pot (8 qt.) over medium heat and add the butter. After the butter melts and foams, add the shallot and leeks, sauteing and stirring constantly until translucent and slightly tender, about 3-4 minutes. Add celery and saute for about another 1-2 minutes.

Add chicken stock, potatoes, and two teaspoons of kosher salt. Stir to combine. Increase heat to high and bring just to a boil. Then, cover, lower heat, and maintain a steady simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until potatoes are tender enough to easily pierce and break apart with a fork.

With a stick blender, puree the contents of the soup pot until smooth. Add the cream, and puree for a few moments more until thoroughly blended. Add the thyme, re-season with salt to taste, stir, cover, bring back to a simmer, and maintain a slow simmer for another 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The extra cook time after pureeing allows all the potato starches to swell and burst, eliminating the graininess.

Serve piping hot with toasted baguette croutons, a grating of nutmeg, a grind or two of fresh pepper, a dash of hot sauce, a few snipped fresh chives, or any combination of the above. Makes 8 healthy servings, or 12 as a pre-dinner soup course.

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