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!
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
1 baking potato, 6 to 8 ounces (185 to 250 g)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup (250 mL) heavy cream
1/2 cup (125 mL) packed fresh chervil leaves
Freshly ground white pepper
Freshly squeeze lemon juice
Put the stock or broth in a large pot, and bring it to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat and continue boiling steadily until the liquid reduces to about half its original volume.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. Trim the leeks, cutting off the root ends and the tough dark-green leaves. Carefully cut the leeks in half lengthwise, and rinse thoroughly under cold running water to remove all sand or grit from between the leaves. Cut the leeks crosswise into 1/4-inch (6-mm) slices.
Peel the potato, and cut it into quarters. Cut the quarters crosswise into 1/4-inch (6-mm) slices.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the potatoes and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes longer.
Stir in the reduced stock or broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Then, reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the leeks and potato are very soft, about 45 minutes.
While the vegetables are simmering, put the cream in a small saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and continue boiling steadily, stirring frequently, until the cream has reduced by half. Set aside.
When the vegetable cooking time has ended, stir all but 2 tablespoons of the chervil leaves into the pot, reserving the remainder for a garnish. Cook the vegetables and chervil for 15 minutes longer.
When the vegetables are done cooking, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a food processor or blender, working in batches if necessary to avoid overcrowding. Add a little of the cooking liquid to moisten the vegetables and puree them; then, transfer the puree to a bowl while processing or blending any remaining batches.
Return the puree to the rest of the soup's cooking liquid in the pot and stir in the reduced cream. Simmer over low heat for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, white pepper and a little lemon juice.
Before serving, mince the remaining chervil leaves. Ladle the soup into warmed bowls, garnish with chervil, and serve immediately.(c) 2019 WOLFGANG PUCK WORLDWIDE, INC. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.