Saturday, September 19, 2015

It's Almost Time: Potato Leek Soup

The first whiff of Fall is in the air, and it won't be long until the first really crisp and cool day descends on us. That's always the day we make our first batch of Potato Leek soup of the Fall and Winter seasons. It's hearty, satisfying, and I typically serve it with a good bread or cheese biscuits, and, after supper, a pot of tea and some sort of spicy or homey cookie, like homemade ginger or peanut butter cookies. I think we just like all the rich, warm aromas that emanate from the kitchen! On that first cold night, nothing beats Potato Leek Soup.  But I digress. Here is the soup that we all love:


I use a 12 quart lidded stockpot

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1 pound of thick cut smokey bacon, cut into 1" pieces

1 or 2 large yellow onions, roughly chopped

1 stalk celery, roughly diced into approx. 1/2" pieces

6 leeks, washed well to remove the sand inevitably stuck down near the root end, then roughly sliced into 1/2" slices

1/2 small head of cabbage, cored and coarsely shredded

8 to 10 large russet or yukon gold potatos, peeled, halved, then quarter the halves

12 cups (96 ounces) of chicken broth -- have another 2 to 3 cups on hand if needed

1 or 2 bay leaves

salt to taste

fresh ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning

1 large carrot, shredded

1/4 tsp. caraway seed (optional)

1/2 pint of heavy cream -- or get a pint if you plan to have the soup again within the week

4 to 6 ounces of gruyere cheese, shredded (this is easier if the cheese has been frozen first) - you will need more cheese for subsequent meals

In a large stockpot, cook the bacon until browned and almost crisp, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the pot. Remove bacon, chop roughly; place in a paper towel lined bowl and set aside. If there seems to be more than 3  or 4 tablespoons of bacon fat left in the stockpot, drain some of it off.

To the bacon fat in the stockpot, immediately add the onions and celery, scraping up the brown bits and stirring to cook just until the onions begin to brown. Add the leeks and cook over medium low heat until wilted. Add the potatoes, stir, and cook a few minutes longer. Add the chicken stock, coarsely shredded cabbage, Penzey's Bavarian Seasoning, bay leaf, carrot and thyme. Add salt if needed: Remember there is already some salt in the bacon drippings and chicken broth, so add small amounts and repeatedly taste to get it to your liking. Turn up the burner to medium, and when the stock begins to boil, add half of the bacon pieces, then turn down the heat so that the stock just simmers gently, cooking until the potatoes are tender, about 40 minutes or so, stirring occasionally with the lid ajar a bit.

Using an immersion blender, pulse through the soup to break up the potatoes to the consistency you desire; we like some small potato chunks in the soup, but you may want it smoother. If you like a smoother soup but still a like a little texture, press the potatoes through a ricer instead of using an immersion blender, then return the potatoes to the stockpot.  If the soup seems a bit too thick at this point, (or you just like it a bit thinner), add additional chicken stock and heat until simmering. Add the caraway seed, parsley, and freshly ground pepper to taste.

In individual soup bowls or soup plates which have been pre-warmed, add a tablespoon or two of the heavy cream, and microwave it for 15 seconds or so to take the chill off. Ladle in the soup and stir. Add a drizzle of heavy cream to the top, followed by a 2 tablespoons or so of the gruyere, and top with some of the remaining bacon bits. Serve with nice crusty bread and a salad.

NOTE: I don't add heavy cream to the stockpot for these reasons: 1) the entire pot will be ruined if the cream boils, and 2) there will be lots of soup left for more meals, and soup with cream does not freeze well. The soup freezes wonderfully without the cream and can be used up to four months later. Freeze leftover soup in multiple serving batches.  Defrost a batch when needed, and slowly reheat in a covered heavy bottomed pot until simmering. Make up the soup bowls as above and serve.

Also: The soup is better when allowed to cool and is then chilled overnight and reheated. That never happens, though! We have absolutely no willpower. But if you can make this in advance, it is actually better reheated and served the next day. First day soup is very good; second day soup is GREAT. :-) Hence the big batch. 

Makes 8 to 10   2 cup servings

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