Monday, October 18, 2010

Perfect Potato Soup

One of the most comforting things in the cold and windy winters of my childhood was Momma's potato soup.  I remember watching her make it, standing on a stool by the warm stove.  She always used gigantic russet potatoes, thoroughly peeling them (for her squeamish children who didn't like "funny brown stuff" in their soup), chopping them, and plop-plop-plopping the chunks into the hot water in the pot.  She never added onions, I guess because we also didn't like those.  But she did add celery. And cream. And salt and pepper. And butter. 

That was it. That was her soup.  She'd serve us each a big bowl, to which I would promptly add another large pat of butter, letting the golden goodness melt and swirl into the soup.  You didn't stir it in completely, though--that spoiled the delight of crafting each spoonful with the right amount of soup, salt, and melted butter. 

Over the years, as I've made the soup myself, I've changed a few things.  For one (and I really don't know what was wrong with me as a kid), I love onion now, and add it to preeetty much everything I make.  For another thing, I like to add herbs and substitute coconut milk for the cream.  I also tend to use red or golden potatoes instead of russet. I think it makes it creamer :) 

In any case, I still stick with that generous pat of butter, letting it happily melt in my bowl.  And, despite my seemingly dramatic shifts from the way I preferred the soup as a child, it remains a strong comforting meal to soothe the wet and windy winter cold away, even in the earliest days of fall. 

Perfect Potato Soup

a bunch of potatoes, roughly chopped (seriously, I never measure--maybe 8 or 10 round red spuds for a good 2 quarts of soup)
some water (you can use stock, but I don't recommend boiling the potatoes in the stock, since you'll drain most of the water)
2-3 stalks celery, coarsely chopped
cream (or coconut milk)

1 or 2 onions, chopped
herbs of choice
a few tablespoons flour (to thicken the soup further)

In a medium pot, bring a couple quarts of salted water to a boil.  While the water is heating up, coarsely chop the potatoes (no need to peel them, but you certainly can if you like) and the celery.  Add both vegetables to the water and cook until fork-tender.  

Optional: While the potatoes are cooking, chop the onions and saute them until they just start to caramelize. Turn off the heat.  Add to the onions the herbs of choice, flour, and any additional seasoning you can think of (I like some cayenne pepper in my soup during flu season).  Mix the herbs and flour into the onions until there are no dry lumps and it's all evenly distributed.  Set aside. 

When the potatoes and celery are tender, drain most of the water but keep it in a bowl or a pitcher.  Add the onions to the drained potatoes and stir well.  Blend the soup with a stick blender adding water as necessary to get  the right consistency (if you want to use stock, add stock to thin the soup instead of the water).  

Taste and check seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. 

Serve in your favorite big bowl with a big spoonful of butter and some warm toast. Maybe with some cheese on top.  

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