Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Leek and Potato Soup and Irish Soda Bread

Many of the most comforting and soul-satisfying foods, like rice, risotto, mashed potatoes and oatmeal, are the least attractive. Their beige monotony does not generate visual excitement, so we take them for granted and often overlook them. For years I have passed by recipes for Irish Soda Bread, believing so few and so basic of ingredients, put together with so little effort, and of such humble origins, could only be so good. Good enough to get one through a famine certainly, but probably not great. Do not be deceived by its simplicity; it is amazing with butter, with or without jam, with fresh horseradish -or served with soup. The honest flavor of the wheat comes through pure and delicious. I now completely get everything I've heard and read from those singing the praises of Irish Soda Bread.

Irish Soda Bread
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. all purpose flour
1/3 c. brown sugar
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
Cut in:
1/4 c. butter
Stir in:
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
Knead to form a solid, shaggy ball. Place in a well-greased 8 inch square Pyrex dish and flatten to fill. Cut a 1/2 inch x into top. Bake 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until done. Cool completely on wire rack.

The leeks in our garden did very well again this year and I use them in place of onions in many recipes. They are incredibly versatile, lending their own unique character in the kitchen. I really hope they keep well into the winter like they did last year, but I don't suppose we'll be quite so lucky.

Leeks are one of the two main ingredients in Leek and Potato Soup, another food who's beige appearance, simplicity of ingredients, and ease of preparation give very little hint to how delightful it tastes. And this soup has the singular honor of being the very first recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. There can be no higher endorsement, no matter how boring it may look.

Leek and Potato Soup
In stockpot, simmer until tender:
3 c. sliced leeks
3 c. chopped peeled potatoes
2-3 quarts water (or chicken stock)
1 T. salt
Mash, using a slotted spoon, potato or bean masher, or run through a food mill. Do not use a blender which will cause too much starch to be released and make the soup have a 'gluey' texture.
2 T. butter
white pepper to taste
1/3 c. cream or milk (optional)

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