At a certain point, you've got to admit that She's just kind of full of it. Life, I mean, and Her grab bag of outrageous, the one She keeps slung over one shoulder. I'll bet it's a messenger, and a plain one at that, and I imagine She reaches in every now and again, casting little bits of absurd and incredible, scattershot, Johnny Apple Seed style.
I got to thinking about this in earliest January, out on the Peninsula. We'd stopped off in a down-trodden little town dear to my heart, in search of a certain spectacular Ridge. It was closed, as it happened, so we settled instead for a rainbow. A whole rainbow. A sight I'd always filed under the same basic header as unicorns and philosopher's stones and flattering stirrup pants. I.e., impossible. And while I guess I was never taught as much outright, I left grade school certain the only full arcs I'd ever encounter would involve markers and Leprechauns and pasted-on pots of gold. To see one in real life? Highly unlikely.
And yet, there it was, one-hundred-and-eighty degrees of unlikely. So ever since, I've been sort of taking notes, noticing those funny little wrinkles in Life where reality and Ripley's rub shoulders. And darned if they don't keep cropping up.
Like spying, for example, both of these within the week. We didn't travel to Alaska for glacier-gawking. Nope, not Greenland, either. We just stepped out our back door and stared straight up, and bingo! Glaciers, global-warming or no. Technically, they're gutters, full-to-bursting with ice, but I understand your confusion, completely. Glaciers, gutters, gutters, glaciers, my pretty little head can hardly keep 'em straight. And not ten yards away? Dogwood buds, by the hundreds. Audacity of hope, indeed.
Or consider how improbable it is that those alliums ever stood four feet tall, ten feet deep. Fireworks posing as flowers, so abundant we tossed off "too many!", maybe a few too many times. They took us so seriously, just up and vamoosed. The odd brittle memento mori's all that's left at the mo, plus the promise of dozens, sleeping deep under ground. I'm trusting that's where my next issue is, also. Because done's not acceptable, over's not allowed. Someone, please tell me, you're working on this?
I won't ask you to consider soufflés. I won't talk about how simple they are, no harder than whipping cream and whisking up white sauce. We don't know each other well enough, and you wouldn't believe me, and you'd file that under impossible. And that would be a shame.
So instead let's talk soup. Three ingredient soup. Four if you count the flourish, optional but sensational. Still, then, less than a handful. Plus five minutes' work, and an hour of nothing, save the alchemy that turns two dirty roots into downright delicious. Lame, so lame, believe me, I know. In this analytic age of Brown and McGee, alchemy's a pretty huge cop out. But how else to explain how potatoes and leeks bend all the rules here?
Julia may have filed this under Potage Parmentier, and it's French heritage is hardly in contest. But the technique reads more like a red and white can than something from the homeland of haute cuisine. There's no mirepoix, gently stirred and caramelized. No stock, slowly simmered and strained. Not even a measly bouquet garni, bobbing along for oomph. Instead, it's just chop and chuck into plain salted water, and simmer away until all is soft. Blend until smooth, finish with cream, and pull up a chair for a slurpable feast.
Still seem impossible? Did to me, too. I'm a little handicapped, really, stumping for this soup, since for my first thirty years I considered it a waste of a clean spoon. I never tasted it, mind you. Just turned up my nose at the sight. So pale, so thin, so lacking in anything, well, interesting. Like something you'd feed sick people. In a hospital. Apologizing profusely with every choked sip, promising smuggled brownies, ASAP. I still think it's ugly. I also think — and I've tucked into both this week — that potato-leek soup rivals a soufflé, any day.
It is earthy and sweet with spuds and leeks, which balance each other, beautifully. But the cream, the cream is everything. It rounds and embellishes like nobody's business, and transforms this from frugal thin pot to silky lush slurry. You'd guess there's a cup, but it's only a quarter, and I wouldn't dream of skimping a drop. Just like that, it's perfect, unless my day's been less so. And then, when I need just a little bit more, some protein for punch to get me through bedtime, I gild this lily with a small heap of smoked fish. Wilson's salmon, in Seattle; here, smoked trout. Either turns this soup into supper, light and hearty and, dare I say, perfecter. Grammatically speaking, I know that's impossible. But you know, my taste buds just really don't care.
Potato Leek Soup
Adapted from Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Yields 4-6 supper-sized servings
I prefer this slightly thicker than the original, as I'm usually calling it dinner. Two medium russets and two generous leeks weighed in at 15 ounces, this time around. This yields a soup that is surprisingly loose, like light cream, but I love the way this feathery texture plays against the lush flavor. I've made it with larger veg, verging on 18 ounces, and liked these slightly thicker results equally. Your choice.
And a note on the salt: A full tablespoon of salt sounds like a LOT, but it is pitch perfect with this quantity of water and roots. That said, I would dial it down just a bit (to a generous 2 1/2 teaspoons) if you're using regular table salt (I use kosher, which is looser). Ditto, if you plan on adding the fish, which adds it's own salty kick to the mix.
15-18 oz. russet potatoes (2-3 potatoes; 4-5 cups), peeled and sliced
15-18 oz. leeks (2-3 leeks, 4-5 cups), halved, thoroughly washed, and thinly sliced (whites and tender greens)
2 quarts (8 cups) of water
1 Tbl. kosher salt
4-6 Tbl. heavy cream
3-4 Tbl. chives or parsley, for garnish
6-8 oz. smoked salmon or trout, flaked, to top
Place sliced potatoes, leeks, water and salt in a medium saucepan, and bring to the boil. Turn heat down to low-medium, and simmer, partially covered, 40-50 minutes, or until potatoes are very tender.
Place stick blender in soup pot, and blitz 1-2 minutes, until soup is completely smooth. Alternatively, process in batches in a standing blender, or pass through a food mill until uniformly smooth. Stir in cream off the heat, taste, and correct seasoning if needed.
Ladle into soup bowls, pile a small heap of flaked fish on top if using, and garnish with fresh herbs, if you so wish.