For years I foolishly thought vichyssoise was a kind of French fish soup. Well, I got the soup part right but embarrassingly betrayed the fact that I paid no attention in French class. I wish now that I had.
There is no easier way to give yourself or someone you love that ‘cared-for-feeling’ than to make a pot of home-made soup. And there is no simpler soup or one more deserving of praise than the Classic Leek and Potato Soup.
Often overlooked for more elaborate concoctions, the classic soup of potatoes and leeks remains unsurpassed in its creamy perfection. You can make the soup with onions, but you will not get the delicate flavor which is owed to the leek. Related to both the garlic and the onion, the leek combines the two in subtle harmony.
I learned to make leek and potato soup, like many Americans, by watching and reading Julia.
“For the home soup maker, the marriage of leeks and potatoes is a heavenly one. Cooked together in broth or water just until tender, with the simplest seasoning, the two unassuming vegetables have an affinity, yielding a thick, satisfying soup of harmonious flavors and hearty textures.” (Julia Child and Jacques Pepin; Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home; Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.; 1999, page 52)
In Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, Julia elaborates on the perfect soup with a combination of onions and leeks and the added step of sautéing the leeks and onions in butter and adding flour to thicken the liquid. I prefer the simplicity of her method in The Way to Cook, in which she lauds the leek and potato soup as “the mother of the family in all her simplicity.” (Julia Child, The Way to Cook, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1989, page 13) It is the one that is naturally gluten free, the simplest, and the one I have used as the basis for my own version.
I must admit that the first time I made this soup, I was not prepared for the pleasant transformation of what seemed to be the humblest of ingredients. If you have never made it, you are in for a surprise. And if you have, you will understand that there is really no need for a recipe and the variations are as much fun to create and discover as they are to eat.
Julia said she preferred the soup made with plain water so that nothing interferes with the “pristine leek-and–potato flavor”. (J and J Cooking At Home, p. 52)
Season simply with a little salt and you needn’t go any further. For a creamier presentation, puree or mash a portion of or all of the soup and add a bit of cream or sour cream as I did here.
I am posting this recipe because it is naturally gluten free and can be thrown together in almost no time at all with a bare minimum of ingredients. It is also completely satisfying and filling all by itself or served with a salad or my favorite, Kate’s GF Cheese Rolls.
I have added one gluten-free, no MSG beef bouillon cube so I don’t fuss over the seasoning and 1 cup of sour cream to make it rich and creamy.
Serve left-overs proudly and cold making sure to pronounce it ‘vihsh-ee-SWAHZ’ or ‘VEE-she-swahz’, but not ‘vinsch-ee-SWAH’. After checking the pronunciation with a French colleague of my husband’s, I laughed when he said, “But we usually just call it, ‘Leek and Potato Soup’”.
Whatever you call it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Classic Leek and Potato Soup
4 cups sliced leeks (It took me about 3 leeks using all of the white part and just a little of the green.)
4 cups diced potatoes (peeled and uncooked)
6 cups of water
1 ½ tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 large cube gluten free, no MSG beef bouillon (I used Knorr)
1 cup sour cream (I used regular sour cream because some lite sour creams may contain gluten.)
Clean and slice leeks and dice potatoes.
Julia Child has an excellent demonstration in her videos and cookbooks on cleaning leeks. (See page 298 of The Way to Cook). Basically, you need to check inside the green leaves where sand and dirt lodge. If you need to, you can slice the leaves lengthwise to better expose the middle of the leek. I used mostly the white part so this was not a big problem for me.
Place the diced potatoes and sliced leeks in a 4 quart sauce pan or Dutch oven, with a lid, on top of the stove.
Add 6 cups of water and 1 ½ tsp. of salt. Bring the leeks, potatoes, water and salt to a boil. Reduce heat to keep at a simmer. Cover partially and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. You want the vegetables to be tender.
This is the point you can check the seasoning and serve chunky potatoes with the tender leeks in the clear broth. It is as delicious as it is unassuming. Or you can go on to make the soup creamier.
Decide if you want all of the potatoes to be mashed, for a completely smooth soup, or if you want a combination of some pureed and some chunky.
For these pictures, I pureed all of the vegetables and some of the broth. Because I was using a blender I had to remove the hot liquid, puree for only a few seconds and place back into the original pot with the rest of the broth.
If you have a hand held immersible blender, you can save yourself the hassle of transferring the hot vegetables and puree right in the pot. You can also partially mash the potatoes with a potato masher for a happy medium between smooth and creamy and totally chunky.
Now with everything back in the pot, (either the smooth puree or partially pureed) begin to heat through. The soup should still be hot at this point, so you may just need to stir together.
Add the bouillon cube and stir until dissolved.
Then stir in the cup of sour cream until blended.
Test to make sure the seasoning is correct. Add more salt if needed, but be careful not to add too much as the bouillon adds to the 1 ½ tsp. you already have.
Serve immediately or transfer to a Tupperware container, glass bowl or something else you can store in your refrigerator to chill for authentic vichyssoise.
After one taste of this though, I had to serve it immediately. Left-overs can be chilled and reheated gently on the stove top.