Leeks have been quite the rage in Nimes lately. At least that’s what I see hanging out of people’s grocery bags almost anytime I head out. So what better thing to do on a lazy day like this then to reminisce about a soup I made yesterday instead of doing anything productive (of which there is a BIG LIST of things that I should be doing). I’ve got something HUGE happening in a matter of five days, but until then, I shall lie around and enjoy the slow life of a typical nimois.
Yesterday was far more busier. I woke up bright and early at 9AM (I know that seems like nothing, but when I am on break, it’s a huge deal), and headed out to Nimes’s central market, Les Halles. Located at the heart of the city’s old town, Les Halles is located in the basement of a shopping center, but within its confines sits stall after stall of vendors selling some of the freshest produce, meats, seafood, and artisanal products around. It’s a real treat for me to just walk around and stare at the produce for hours. This time though, I had the pleasure to buy a beautiful bunch of organic leeks, Provençal tomatoes, and some of the greenest parsley I have ever seen. Along with some local olive tapenade, and a mind-blowing eggplant and sun-dried tomato spread that I would be willing to eat a bucket of, I headed to the best boulangerie (bakery) in town to pick up a baguette and then headed to my apartment to create a meal fit for warming up the soul.
I gave my leeks a French treatment because of my location and as a way of paying homage to a cuisine which treats this ingredient so tenderly. In fact, French cuisine in general is an art because it allows the inherent flavor of each of a recipe’s ingredient to shine through. Nothing is too overpowering and everyone lives in balance and harmony. It’s no surprise that France, with all of its beautiful regions, forms the true gourmet cradle of gastronomy.
As an American, what better way to choose a Potage Parmentier recipe than by looking at one by Julia Child, whose book Mastering the Art of French Cooking, sparked a fascination for French cooking in the States that has lasted all the way untill today. While I have not actually read the book yet, the day I do will be glorious indeed. Until then, I snagged this recipe from foodnetwork.com.
There really isn’t much to this soup. It’s a humble pot of leeks and potatoes stewed together in water until tender and then blended until creamy with some heavy cream for good measure. I perked up the recipe a bit by adding a clove of garlic and some crushed red pepper flakes, but other than that I stuck true to the recipe’s roots. My oh my was I blown away by the subtle flavors. The leeks, which are themselves members of the onion family, are nowhere near as strong as their cousins, but instead lend a mellow onion flavor that will appeal to everyone, no matter how much of an onion-lover or hater you are. Potatoes provide the substance and the sprinkling of parsley and a dollop of creme fraiche (the French answer to sour cream) give the needed burst of tangy herbaciousness. It’s all perfect for a lazy day at home or after a busy day spent running around in the winter cold. It’s that comforting side of French food, so rarely seen in those fancy bistro restaurants, that is bound to turn any frown upside down.
Adapted from a Julia Child recipe originally spotted on Food Network
- 3 cups sliced leeks (I used the whole thing as all parts of a leek are edible)
- 3 cups peeled and chopped potatoes
- 6 cups water
- salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- 2 garlic cloves, leave them whole, optional
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup creme fraiche
- juice of 1 lemon, optional
- 1/3 cup minced parsley or chives
- olive oil, for the pot
Heat up some olive oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the garlic and the crushed red pepper and allow them to infuse the oil for a couple of seconds. Then add the leeks and potatoes, along with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, and cook for about 8-10 minutes, till the vegetables have softened. Then add the water and bring the mixture to a boil followed by a simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, till the vegetables are tender. Blend the soup with an immersion blender and then add the heavy cream and lemon juice. Adjust the soup for seasoning by adding salt and pepper as needed. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche and a healthy sprinkle of parsley or chives.
- This soup could be done with caramelized onions and roasted garlic instead of leeks if you want to do a play on the French onion soup idea.
- You can replace the water with vegetable or chicken stock if you prefer. Make sure to adjust the seasoning accordingly then.
- If you can’t find creme fraiche in your grocery store, sour cream also makes a good substitute.
- Peas and mint would make a good variation on this soup as well.