The sky looks ominous. There's a strong line of storms heading our way, highlighted with everyone's least-favorite nail biter: a tornado watch. It feels like tornado season, or at least what I remember tornado season feeling like as a kid in the midwest. My mom would become increasingly nervous, pacing rooms, checking windows, then heading back to look for warnings on TV. (No weather apps back in the day.) The thick air outside crept into the house, because she always kept the windows cracked open a bit to relieve the pressure in the event of a tornado. (Does that really work? Or was that an urban legend before urban legends became a catch-phrase?) The worst fear, though, lurked not in the sky—but below ground.
On the occasions when the skies blackened and Mom scurried us into the basement, I faced my worst fears. Our basement wasn't your lovely burnt orange and olive green 1970s rec room/play room/workshop. Our basement rivaled the set of the most terrifying horror movie imaginable. Dark, damp, and decorated with spider webs, it also sported a crawl space where you knew—unfailingly knew—an unfortunate soul was buried.
As a kid, I'd rather brave the winds of the tornado than wait it out in the basement. It felt safer.
Fortunately, one of the first remodeling jobs we completed when Peter and I moved into our house involved transforming our own scary basement into a fairly cozy space. While we have two storage rooms that are completely underground and perfect tornado shelters, the basement also has the benefit of opening into the backyard. It's light and non-horror-film like. (We did have a pretty good Halloween party down there prior to the remodel, though.)
But this isn't a post about tornados or terrifying basements.
It's about soup.
Soup and rainy days are meant for each other, like Bogie and Bacall or peanut butter and chocolate. Rainy, stormy days involved more than my mom pacing between the window and the TV—she'd whip up a quick lunch of soup and grilled cheese before checking the sky again.
Most childhood memories of grilled cheese involve a side of tomato soup. Not mine. As the world's pickiest eater (and now the parent of the world's pickiest children), I chose potato soup from the red and white can.
Today's soup, though, requires no can opener. Granted, due to unforeseen circumstances, like a missing corkscrew and a dead blender, the soup took much, much longer to prepare than Campbell's. However, with a little planning (i.e. make sure you know where the corkscrew is and buy a new blender before you begin if you have any doubts about its functionality), it's a fairly quick and easy recipe. Honestly? The most time-consuming chore should be peeling potatoes, not Googling “How to open a wine bottle without a corkscrew.”
What's really lovely about this soup is that many of you may have grown potatoes this summer, or you might have a bounty of thyme in your herb garden. Is there anything nicer than making a soup with ingredients from your own garden? To me, it's therapeutic: chopping potatoes, snipping herbs, incorporating my harvest into a warm, nurturing dish that lends comfort to a nasty day. I feel a little heroic, even if it's just soup.
Today's Potato, Leek, and Bacon Soup is a slight adaptation from Emeril Lagasse. I used his recipe as the foundation, although he doesn't include bacon, then improvised a bit, doubling the recipe and adding a tad more of this and a pinch of that.
I know—how dare I mess with the master? When I was a twenty-something marketing manager for a publishing company, our national sales manager and I traveled to New Orleans for a convention. In some six-degrees-of-separation manner, my travel companion knew Emeril, so we dined at his restaurant...and were treated to a chef's sampling. Course after course of deliciousness arrived, little tidbits of scrumptiousness (and a whole lot of wine.) To this day, that meal ranks as one of my five favorite dinners.
I'm so hungry, just thinking about it.
But enough of my tornado stories and meal remembrances. It's time to make comfort food:
Potato, Leek, and Bacon Soup
2 large leeks
2 bay leaves
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs (about 10)
4 tbsp. butter
4 pieces bacon, cut into 1” pieces
1 cup dry white wine
8 cups organic chicken stock
4 lbs. potatoes, peeled
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
2 cups heavy cream
4 pieces bacon, cooked and crumbled into small pieces
4 tbsp. chives, diced
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese, sprinkle as desired
Remove two large leek leaves. Rinse and set aside.
Remove the majority of the top green leaves from the leeks, then slice the white portion of the leeks lengthwise and place in a colander. Separate the sections and rinse leeks under cold water, removing any traces of dirt. Pat dry. Place on cutting board and slice the leeks thinly, approximately ¼-inch crosswise. Set aside.
In a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the bacon and cook until soft, approximately 7-8 minutes, stirring to ensure even cooking. Add the sliced leeks and cook until wilted, about 6-7 minutes.
While the bacon and leeks are cooking, make a bouquet garni using the reserved leek leaves. Place the leaves on a cutting board, the bottom leaf horizontal with the second leek leaf placed on top vertically, like a “plus” sign. Place the bay leaves, thyme, and peppercorns in the center of the leek leaves. Fold the sides of the vertical leaf to the center, then fold the top and bottom of the leaf to meet. Wrap the horizontal (bottom) leek leaf around the inner package to support and contain the herbs.
Tie with kitchen twine. (Or, if you're like me and don't own twine specified for the kitchen, use white thread—I quadrupled the thread to make sure it didn't break.)
Add the wine, chicken stock, potatoes, salt, pepper, and bouquet garni to the soup pot. Bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat and allow the soup to simmer for 45 minutes. Potatoes need to be very tender—test them with a fork. They should fall apart easily.
Remove the bouquet garni.
Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until smooth. You can also (carefully) pour batches of the soup into a blender, unless your blender has died (as mine had.)
Add the cream and blend.
Ladle into soup bowls, then garnish with chives, crisply cooked bacon, and cheese. Serve with warm bread.
Makes 12 servings.
A few notes:
I made a big vat of soup, because I wanted it to last for several lunches and a dinner or two. I separated it into two portions before adding the cream, storing the creamless portion for future meals. It's easier to warm the soup first without the cream, then add the cream at the end. Of course, this means you'll need to get your blender out again—or you can whisk it really well. If you warm the soup with the cream already in it, just make sure it doesn't boil. The choice is yours.
Although it was an exercise in patience while making the soup—with my missing corkscrew and my dead blender—I'm quite happy to have it today.
It's raining. The dogs are pacing relentlessly, much like my mom once did, so we must be in for a doozy of a storm. Chloe, who would rather be outside in a storm than inside where it's warm and dry, is now under my desk, breathing on my lap. Sophie is close, too. They're freaking me out a bit.
But I have my soup and a non-scary basement.
I think I'll enjoy my comfort food before the dogs and I need to head for cover.
Enjoy! (And stay safe, all of you who are in the storm's path.)