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Sunday, October 2, 2011

Potage Parmentier (Potato and Leek Soup)

It probably seems like leeks are making it into a lot of stuff lately. That's because they don't let you just buy one leek in the market. So, I've had to use up the few that came in the bunch. Honestly, never cooking with leeks before it's been something of an experiment but they've become big hits around here. We've enjoyed the subtle onion flavor they impart to things.

So, as I tried to come up with something for last night's menu I hit upon a true French classic - Potage Parmentier, or Potato and Leek Soup. This is one of those classic Julia Child type recipes that is very adaptable to what you have on hand, provided you have at least potatoes, leeks, water, and either butter or cream. But you can use up other veggies you have handy as well.

If you're hitting Google Translate and coming up blank on "Parmentier" that's because it's actually a proper name. Long, long ago during the Seven Years War there was an army pharmacist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. Parmentier was captured and thrown in a Prussian prison. While there he was forced to eat potatoes. For us that wouldn't be such horrible punishment (especially me) but for Parmentier as a Frenchman it was "quelle horreur!" The French only used potatoes for animal feed and actually banned the cultivation of the potato for human consumption because they thought it was poisonous and contributed to leprosy. So, Parmentier was aghast but he ate them rather than starve.

A few years later as he conducted research on nutrition he remembered eating the potatoes and suggested they might be good for patients with dysentery. His research won him a prize in 1772 and the French medical establishment declared potatoes edible that same year. But, all was not well. The religious community still held the belief that potatoes were inedible and blocked Parmentier from cultivating them in his test gardens or feeding them to patients regularly. So Parmentier decided to try some guerilla marketing. He began hosting lavish dinners with dignitaries and royalty where he served various potato dishes. He even posted armed guards around his personal potato patch so that people would think the potatoes were extremely valuable. He would then remove the guards and let the local residents "steal" his treasure!

It wasn't until a famine in 1785 that people in France finally embraced the lowly, but oh so versatile potato. By 1795 and the opening of the Napoleonic wars the potato was even being cultivated in the gardens of the Tuileries to stave off famine and hunger.

And there you have the story of Potage Parmentier a lovely French soup made with leeks and potatoes that will not only stave off hunger at your dinner table but keep your guests coming back for more!

This version, adapted loosely from Julia Child, features the traditional leeks. I've found a shortcut to chopping and peeling potatoes in the form of hash browns. I had pulled out my bag of Yukon Gold potatoes to start peeling and chopping when I happened upon my bag of hash browns in the freezer. I had exactly the amount needed for the recipe. I've used hash browns in the past to speed along other potato soups like my Baked Potato Soup. Rather than peel and chop, I decided to use my hash browns. It works perfectly in this recipe and can save you a step if you're doing a multi-course meal.

Potage Parmentier can also contain more than potatoes and leeks. This is a real peasant soup so other vegetables can add lots of flavors. I chose some left over carrots I had in the fridge. Traditionally, this is finished with butter or cream to give the soup it's creamy texture. I decided to use butter but also added about a tablespoon of sour cream (Creme Fraiche would be even better if you have it.) I liked the very hint of tartness in the background. I also used chicken broth in place of water as the soup base. I like the flavor complexity of the broth and it gives the soup a little something extra. This is one of those times when using a store bought broth is best, however. If you make your own it might be a little too good and overpower the veggies. Store bought broths tend to have just a bit of the chicken flavor without being so strong or rich. I suggest Swanson broth in this. The addition of the broth made the scent of the soup while cooking nearly irresistible!

To garnish this you can use finely chopped green onion, chives, or herbs. I didn't have any chives or green onion on hand, so used a little cracked pepper with some dried rosemary and dill weed.

I really enjoyed making this soup because it is simple and easy. Michael loved it as a first course to the chicken breasts stuffed with spinach and onions. Another benefit of Potage Parmentier is that it can be served hot, room temperature, or chilled and remain delicious!

So, as Julia would say "Bon apetit!"

: Potage Parmentier (Potato and Leek Soup)
: A classic French soup that can be served hot, cold, or room temperature. Adapted from Julia Child.

  • 1 lb. potatoes, peeled and diced (or use hash browns)
  • 3 cups leeks, thinly sliced (white and tender green parts only)
  • 2 cups carrots, sliced into coins (optional)
  • 2 quarts chicken broth
  • 1 tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 tbs. cracked pepper
  • 4 -6 tbs. heavy cream or 2 -3 tbs. softened butter
  • 1-2 tbs. sour cream or creme fraiche (optional)

  1. Pour chicken stock into large pot with leeks, potatoes and carrots (if using). Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer. Partially cover and cook for 60 minutes or until vegetables are very tender. Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Puree the soup using either an immersion blender or allow to cool slightly and transfer to a regular blender. Blend until smooth. Return to pot if using a regular blender. Adjust seasonings as needed.
  3. When ready to serve stir in butter or cream and sour cream or creme fraiche (if using). If soup is too thick, add water until it reaches the right consistency. You want a thick soup but not so thick it resembles whipped potatoes!
  4. Ladle into bowls or a soup tureen. May be served warm, cold or room temperature. Garnish as desired with chives, sliced green onion, parsley or herbs of choice.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4
Culinary tradition: French
Calories: 259
Fat: 10.3
Protein: 7.2

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