Send winter's cold packing with a hearty, heartwarming soup
In the middle of winter, my mind and appetite often turn toward soup. A hearty bowlful feels warming and sustaining from the moment you see and smell it until long after it fills your stomach. And a big pot of soup simmering on the stove promises everyone in your home that delicious, satisfying food is on the way and guaranteed to put an end to your shivers on the chilliest winter day.
The winter soup I'd like to share with you is my variation on a French soup you've probably heard of: leek and potato soup. But unlike that country classic, this soup includes much more leek -- a milder-tasting cousin of the onion -- than it does potato. In fact, the ordinary baking potato included in the recipe largely plays a role of thickener for the soup, as well as providing a mild-tasting counterpoint to the leeks.
But the real twist to this recipe is the packed half cup of fresh chervil leaves, which adds a touch of springtime. Just as leeks are related to onions, chervil is part of the parsley family. But its flavor is noticeably milder than parsley, and its leaves are more delicate looking and sometimes slightly paler in color. Nibble on a leaf or two and you might also notice that the herb even tastes faintly like anise or licorice -- not so much that you would at all think of it as a sweet flavor, but just enough to make some people eating the soup pause briefly and say to themselves, "What is that flavor?"
If you've never tried chervil before, you may be surprised to find that it's available in the produce sections of many well-stocked supermarkets. You can grow it yourself, too, even in an indoor window herb garden and add it to salads and other soups. Or you may want to use it as a delicate garnish for French style omelets or scrambled eggs.
In case the word "cream" at the start of the recipe that follows makes you pause to wonder if it's a very rich soup, let me hurry to explain that it mostly describes the creamy consistency of the soup. But, yes, there is some actual cream included as well. At only 1 cup (250 mL) for 8 servings, though, that works out to just 2 tablespoons (60 mL) per serving.
Serve the soup as a first course for any winter meal. Or make it your main dish, accompanied by crusty bread and a salad. If you like, you can even serve it cold come springtime, or dress up the hot or cold version for a special occasion by garnishing it with shaved white truffle or a spoonful of caviar. For such a simple recipe, it's very versatile indeed!
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CREAM OF LEEK AND CHERVIL SOUP
Serves 6 to 8
10 cups (2.5 L) good-quality low-sodium canned chicken stock or broth
3 large leeks