My mother’s kitchen sorely missed an ingredient I use almost daily: onions. During my father’s service during WWII, he declared the food in the mess hall contained a host of this ingredient in unfamiliar dishes. Afterward, that root vegetable was forbidden on North Madison Avenue. However, since I have left that abode, I have a passion for alliums, as they are known, far past the papery orbs.
I buy shallots by the dozen and have one grocery store in Newnan that offers the sturdiest, most varied in size of any competitor. Preferring to choose my own, I love Little Giant, which has large market baskets of them so I can choose a smaller one to sauté and combine with English peas for one or a larger one for a skillet of mushrooms. I often include a slice or two when I make salad dressing in the blender.
Another favorite, the leek, has a more fascinating history. Known in early Egyptian history as well as Biblical references, the leek supposedly encompassed the diet of King David when he was fasting. The Emperor Nero held it in high esteem as he was convinced it improved his voice. A long symbol in Welsh history, it found its way as part of the embellishment of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gown.
While I enjoy leeks most in a simple sauté, they can be enjoyed on their own in a braise or part of the famed French peasant soup with leeks and potatoes as meager ingredients. Julia Child reports that most simply the leeks are allowed to soften and then combine with potatoes and water for a soothing blend.
Leeks can be a bit bothersome as they must be cut in half and soaked for a time to remove the grit. The dark green parts are tough and usually discarded; however, I sometimes save them and use them in stock.
I have made this potato-leek soup for quite a while. A cool weather version is vichyssoise, which simply requires a thinner product, served cold. Next time you have some excellent chicken stock, consider making this soup as it freezes wonderfully.
Potato Leek Soup
3 large leeks
1 generous teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon butter, plus 1 tablespoon oil
freshly ground pepper
4 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
2 pounds potatoes, preferable Yukon Golds
1 cup cream or half and half
Cut the leeks in half horizontally and then slice again, removing the outside green leaves. Slosh them around in a bowl of water to aid in removing any residual dirt. I often use ice in the water and leave them alone for an hour or so. Drain and allow to rest on a towel for at least thirty minutes.
Slice into thin rings, discarding any tough leaves. Sauté in the butter and oil until very limp but not browned. Add the diced potatoes and all other ingredients save the cream. Cook until the potatoes fall apart, an hour or so. Allow to cool slightly before pureeing the soup minus the bay leaf if you wish. Add as much of the cream as you wish, as I find a little cream goes a long way. Garnish with chives or scallions.
I have just returned from grocery shopping and purchased more leeks to use in a pasta casserole I am making later in the week (they keep so well refrigerated.) Daddy is probably shaking his head knowing that I have spent good money on such an objectionable edible.
Amelia Adams is a former Walton County educator and a food columnist. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.