A very long time between posts and plenty of new content planned but I thought I’d start with something quick and easy. Both to cook and for me to write up while I get my blogging mojo back into gear.
Here in Adelaide we’re in the depths of winter. After a couple of deceptively sunny days, Mother Nature has spent this week throwing everything at us. Not only has it been cold but it’s been wet too. Great for the garden, not quite enough rain for those involved in agricultural pursuits …
My go-to winter food is soup. I love it. Unfortunately, Andy isn’t such a fan so we don’t eat quite as much of it as I’d like … but fortunately the need to very quickly dream up a meal meant that leek and potato soup, topped with tons of bacon and chives was on the menu. It’s also fortuitous that I’ve just completed a bread making course, thanks to Le Cordon Bleu (details on that to follow) so we had some potato and rosemary sourdough bread ready to go – the perfect accompaniment!
I’ve written about soups before – and this is in the same vein. It’s hardly a recipe – it’s more about the flavour combinations. If you like your soup thicker, use more potato and less water/stock. If you like it thinner … use more water/stock. I think that a good rule of thumb is to cook the soup with the water just covering the ingredients and then let it down if you want to, after you’ve blitzed.
Serve with fresh bread, or toasted bread, thickly spread with butter!
Warm the olive oil in a big pan and add the chopped onion and leek. Sweat them down until they're relatively soft, but avoid the temptation to crank up the heat, as you don't want them to pick up too much colour.
Add the chopped potato and the stock so that the vegetables are just covered and boil (covered, otherwise you'll evaporate off the liquid!) until the potatoes are cooked. The smaller you cut the potatoes, the less time this will take. Keep an eye on it as it cooks, as even with the lid on you may need to add a bit more liquid.
As the soup is cooking, cut the bacon up into small pieces (lardons, if you like) and fry them off in a separate pan. We like them nice and crispy.
Once the potatoes are soft, turn off the heat and blitz the soup until it's nice and smooth. At this point, add more stock or water if it's looking too thick for your taste. Adjust the seasoning too.
When you're ready to serve, ensure everything is hot, then ladle the soup into bowls, topping with bacon and chopped chives.
If you are on some New Year health kick, juice cleanse, paleo, cabbage soup diet … look away now.
Normally, if I want do so something crispy with potatoes I will do oven roasted chips (cut potatoes into wedge shapes, throw in hot fat, cook for around an hour) or spicy fried potatoes. But on Monday, with a 38°C Tuesday looming, there was no way I was putting my oven on for an hour or so. Added to this that we’ve been eating so much spicy food lately I’m kind of over the idea of spicy fried potatoes (yes, I know, heresy!) that I just had to find an alternative to go with the night’s pan fried salmon and salad dinner.
And thanks to the magic of my delicious account, I was rescued by this idea for pommes de terre sarladaises. Pommes de terre is the potato part and ‘sarladaises’ refers to the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda (or just Sarlat) in the Dordogne département of France. My French geography is passable and to me that means almost nothing – perhaps due east of Bordeaux is more helpful – south-ish-and-middle-ish.
It matters little where this dish comes from. What you need to know is that it is good. It’s not healthy and if you don’t hoard duck fat in your fridge, it may necessitate a trip to the shops (or a change in habits). But once you’ve enjoyed its crunchy, crispy, fatty goodness … well, you won’t be looking back.
This is easy but it takes a little patience (but not actually a lot of cooking time). We made the mistake of putting fish and potatoes on at the same time. I’d recommend starting the potatoes earlier and obviously ensure you have the fat good and hot … and plenty spare as you’ll need to add extra to the pan as you go along.
And make plenty – if you have to share, the potatoes won’t stretch nearly as far as you expect them to …
Pommes de terre sarladaises – Quick, Crispy Potatoes
4-5 potatoes, cubed
1-2 tbsp polenta
4-5 tbsp duck fat
1 clove garlic
2-3 tbsp chopped parsley (from the freezer is fine)
Cube the potatoes (no need to peel them unless you really want to) and boil until cooked.
Drain the potatoes and return to the pan. Add 1 tbsp of polenta and put the lid on and give the potatoes a good shake. Add the second tbsp of polenta and repeat the shaking.
You can do this in advance.
When ready to eat, heat a generous tbsp of duck fat in a large pan over high heat. Add the potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally. You'll need to add extra fat as you go along and obviously don't let the pan get so hot you burn the potatoes.
Mid way through the cooking, add a crushed, finely chopped clove of garlic and, once the potatoes are as crispy as you want, stir through the chopped parsley and then serve immediately.
For a week or so, winter threatened to make an appearance here in Adelaide. But then it disappeared and we’ve had the warmest couple of May weeks for about 100 years.
Which is a shame because I love winter food. I not only love eating it but I love that so often it is the type of food you can prepare well in advance and then just pop into the oven after a long day at work, leaving the cook with nothing more strenuous to do than crack open a bottle of red.
So now I’m busy using them up. Which isn’t a problem because I love leeks. I also love soup and while it’s not Andy’s favourite thing to eat (by a long stretch) he’ll tolerate it in small doses.
I’d also been thinking about how I hadn’t really used any of my cookbooks for a while so while I didn’t need a recipe for leek and potato soup I had a quick flick through for inspiration. Regular readers will know I have something of a soft spot for James Martin so I was pleased to find a leek, potato and Stilton soup recipe in his book The Collection. An extra bonus was that it was even less work than I was considering!
His recipe needed a few tweaks to suit what was actually available so it’s my version that follows. The critical thing here is that it’s a one pot, boil it all up trick. Go easy with the blue cheese: they vary in strength and if you add too much you’ll really notice it!
This recipe will serve four. Make sure you have plenty of good, crusty bread to hand!
1 medium sized leek, sliced in half (split) and chopped
½ large onion, roughly chopped
1 large clove of garlic, chopped
1 large potato, peeled and chopped
100g blue cheese, chopped
Place stock pot (or cube) and water in a large pot and bring to the boil.
Add the leek, onion, garlic and potato to the stock and cook covered (you don't want the liquid evaporating!) until the vegetables are soft.
Add half the blue cheese and stir to melt. Then blitz the soup and check the flavour. You need to check the strength of the blue cheese flavour AFTER blitzing as it's the only way of guaranteeing the flavour is through the soup.
If you want to add more cheese, go ahead.
Finish by correcting the seasoning - it's unlikely you'll need salt though you might want to pass the pepper separately.
Serve the soup hot, with a quenelle (that's a dollop!) of sour cream and a sprinkling of parsley.