Leek and Potato Soup.

flag-mini-Ireland Our springtime weather has been a bit erratic -- spells of rainy, shivery days broken by a day or two so unseasonably hot it feels like July, then back to March-like cold and wet. It's probably not unusual for the midwest, but it gets a mite tiresome.
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Cooking is a cozy antidote for crummy weather, and potato leek soup makes sense in spring when it's chilly enough for warm comfort food that is satisfying but not heavy. This soup recipe comes from my well-thumbed May 1996 "The Romance of Ireland" edition of Bon Appetit magazine. It doesn't appear at Bon Appetit's site so I'm including it at the bottom of this post.
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I'm usually hesitant to buy leeks -- they are fairly expensive when you do the math. Not too bad at $2.49 a pound, but considering you chuck exactly half of what you've purchased into the trash (or compost heap), to my penny-pinching mind that doubles the cost. Leeks must have been cheap and plentiful at some point in history, and they seem to be universally paired with potatoes. The Scottish put them into Cock-a-Leekie (chicken and leek) or Tattie-and-Leekie (potato and leek) soup, and the Irish in Leek-and-Potato. The Welsh regard leeks so highly that they have become a national symbol of Wales. On the feast day of Wales' patron saint, St. David (who was poor and pious and thought to eat not much more than leeks and water), leeks (very small ones!) or daffodils are worn in the lapel to demonstrate national pride, and leek soup, called "Cawl Cymreig" (Welsh Cawl) is traditionally served.
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It sure sounds like they consume a lot of leeks across the Atlantic, so I couldn't help but wonder what they're paying for them. A
quick online check of Superquinn, an Irish grocery store chain, shows they’re in no better shape (by my budgetary sensibilities) over there -- $2.70 per pound, if I’m converting my Euros to Dollars and kilograms to pounds correctly.
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Unlike leeks, potatoes as a pantry staple make good food sense -- abundant (except for that tragic time in Ireland in the mid-1800s), filling and inexpensive, it's small wonder they are added to so many dishes around the world. Their cost notwithstanding, leeks -- and the humble potato -- live strong in the native cuisine of my overseas brethren, and I stand with them. So on with the soup!
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Like many creamed soups, this one is easy but a bit labor intensive. First, there's cleaning the ubiquitous grit and dirt out of the leeks. Then there's peeling, chopping, more chopping (and a little weeping, if you’re sensitive to onions -- I am) ...
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... sauteeing, boiling, blending, scraping, pouring, more blending ...
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... and wrangling batches of blended soup with bowls, rubber spatulas and such. Creamed soups sound so easy, but in my kitchen they generate a bit more mess.
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However, may I say the result is silky smooth and delicious, with no cream -- high-fat or otherwise -- to give it creaminess. Seasoned only with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of chopped chives fresh from our spring garden, it tastes both simple and indulgent. I imagine pre-blender versions were chunkier and more rustic, but no less delectable. The recipe calls for butter and chicken stock, but canola oil and vegetable stock can be substituted for a completely meat-free version.

Luckily we had leftover
Irish brown bread (so cinchy to make, from the same issue of Bon Appetit) in the freezer, which I toasted and served with a simple green salad and Smithwick's. Beer might be too sturdy a libation alongside this light creamy soup, but is that reason enough forego? If you have no Smithwick's, white wine will complement the meal nicely.
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Leek and Potato soup is also good chilled, so don't let rising temperatures keep you from enjoying this lush and lovely soup. It's nice to have options when the darned weather can't make up it's mind. Slainte!*


Leek and Potato Soup
From Bon Appetit, May 1996 "The Romance of Ireland" issue

4 servings

3 tablespoons butter
3 large leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, thingly sliced (about 4-1/2 cups)
2 large russet (baking) potatoes (about 18 ounces total), peeled, diced
4-1/2 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt broth

Melt butter in large heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks; stir to coat with butter. Cover saucepan; cook until leeks are tender, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add potatoes. Cover and cook until potatoes begin to soften but do not brown, stirring often, about 10 minutes. Add 4-1/2 cups stock. Bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to saucepan. Thin with additional stock if soup is too thick. Season with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls, garnish with chives and serve.

*A common toast in Ireland and Scotland meaning "Health!" Pronounced SLAWN-cha.

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