Cooking For One: "Soup Is What You Make Yourself"

Posted by on Tuesday May 26th, 2009 | Print

DISH: Green Potato Leek Soup
TYPE: Quintessential Cooking for One
MAIN INGREDIENT: Greens, Potatoes, Leeks

“Soup!” Rocco kept saying into the mic: “Just make soup.”

This call to soup took place early last week on stage in a large room at the main branch of the New York Public Library. Phoebe and I were in the audience, watching a panel of food people at the library’s special event. Amanda Hesser was moderating, and Julie Powell, Marion Nestle, and the above-quoted Rocco DiSpirito chatted about what it meant to cook at home.
Since we were at the library and not at a cooking school or food-oriented venue, the topics and audience questions ran the gamut from food ignorance to food arrogance. Some of the advice seemed directed at the experienced cook, and some seemed meant for the wealthy one. But when one girl stood up and asked, “Well how do I start cooking at home?” and Rocco answered “just make soup: soup is what you make yourself,” I knew the evening had taken a turn for the practical. We’ve featured soup many times on this blog – admittedly over the course of a cold winter and wet spring – and it really is an amazing go-to for the resourceful cook. Soup takes random ingredients and makes them homey and satisfying, but it can also take carefully picked, gourmet ingredients and turn them into an intentional, refined dish.
After the panel had answered all the audience’s questions, I went home, my mind racing about what it meant to cook at home for oneself and for friends, in this day and age. It was about 10:30pm when I finally made it off the subway and through the door. I had taken advantage of free cheese and crackers at the talk, so I wasn’t hungry in spite of my impulse to cook. Thus, I did what any mature, home-cooking individual would think to do: I made soup. I tried the soup as I went along (Rocco also said that tasting while you stir is the hallmark of an excellent cook), but in the end I stowed it in containers that served me well for lunch and dinners throughout the week.
From my kitchen, where soup is the answer whether or not famous chefs ask the question, to yours,
Cara, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
**Recipe**

(front) the potato milk mixture; (back) the greens cooking in broth

Green Potato Leek Soup
Makes 3 servings

Ingredients
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 small potato (about 7 ounces)
1 tablespoon chives
1/2 onion, diced
3 leeks, white and light green parts, washed well and sliced
2 1/2 – 3 cups vegetable broth*
handful of greens—collards or kale, preferably
6 walnut halves
1 cup milk
3/4 teaspoon salt

Note: to make the vegetable broth, just simmer the dark green parts of the leeks with a couple carrots, half an onion, some celery if you have it, and a garlic clove or two in 3-4 cups of water for about 30 minutes. Otherwise, use water or a watered-down purchased broth whose flavor you know you like.

Toast the walnuts in a dry pan or in the oven for about 8-10 minutes, until fragrant. Set aside.

Warm 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a small pan. Add the onions and the leeks and cook over medium heat until they’ve collapsed, about 10 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, scrape from the pan and set aside.

Warm the remaining 2 teaspoons of oil and add the potatoes. Cook until they’ve browned on all sides, then add the chives and another 1/4 teaspoon salt. Slowly, stir in the milk, and cook, letting it thicken, for about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a blender or mini food processor, process the walnuts with the greens (you might want to tear up the leaves a bit before adding). Add up to a cup of stock or water to help smooth.

In a medium pot, mix together the pureed green-walnut mixture, the remaining stock, and the sauteed leeks and onions. Bring to a simmer and boil, uncovered, until slightly reduced. Stir in the potato-milk mixture and warm, stirring constantly so the milk doesn’t curdle. Grind in some pepper and add the remaining salt. Like many soups, this one tastes best reheated the following day.

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  • Jill

    great post!

  • Meinhart

    I've been browsing your site for a while, since I saw your evil, naughty hi-jack on http://www.economybites.tv, when I happened upon this recipe.
    You sounded like such bad bad girls that I had to know more. *wink*

    I figured : well they're QLC's and I just turned 30 two days ago, I can do this.

    Leeks are just available here, I had some potatoes withering in storage, I didn't see a problem with substituting almonds for your walnuts, there was some indian-inspired cauliflower (with kerrie and cayenne) left over and I had a free afternoon.

    My small kitchen is filled with every single pot I own (all small), but I've also got bowls full of deliciously smelling, gloriously green, fantastically tasty soup.

    A huge thank you from Brussels, Belgium!