Wednesday, January 12, 2011

cheap eats - National Soup Month edition

Baby, It's Cold Outside ...
What better month than January to shine the spotlight on soup? Cold blustery days that chill us to the bone, seemingly never-ending snow, and days that grow dark too soon.
A hot pot of soup is just the remedy for all of that. A Lonesome Road favorite is potato leek soup with bacon - it's simple and satisfying, and relatively inexpensive. In this version, I've pureed the soup ingredients without the addition of milk or cream, using the potato cooking water to do some of the thickening (and also adding vitamins that you would have just tossed down the drain). This soup is also a great way to use up a big bag of potatoes that are all looking at you with the beginnings of little eyes everywhere. By all means do not use rotten potatoes! But while peeling potatoes for this soup, just trim off the eyes and save money by not tossing out half a bag of potatoes when they all at once become past their prime.
When I created this soup I was lucky enough to find leeks on sale - a bundle of three for just over two dollars; other than the leeks this recipe is very cost-effective (although I like to splurge on center-cut bacon, a much better deal for the money spent).
The recipe makes quite a bit of soup; you will have enough for a nice light supper and for some nice warming leftover lunches as well, saving you even more money.
  • 10 to 12 medium to medium-small russet potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
  • 3 medium leeks, white and part of light green, rinsed thoroughly and sliced
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 4 to 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth (depends on how thick you like your soup)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 10 slices center-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Cook chopped bacon in a large soup pot until thoroughly cooked. While bacon is cooking, peel and quarter the potatoes and boil them in 4 cups of water until tender (about 10 to 15 minutes).
When bacon has cooked completely, remove with a slotted spoon to a plate with paper towels to drain thoroughly and reserve.
Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat in the soup pot. If potatoes have finished cooking by now, set them aside; do not drain. Saute chopped leeks and onion in the bacon fat until translucent. Add potatoes and their cooking water (which should be partly evaporated). Add 4 cups of broth and thyme, and continue cooking mixture together for another 30 minutes.
Puree mixture in a blender or food processor then return to the soup pot. If you prefer a thinner soup, add more broth. Stir to combine then add crumbled bacon (reserve some as a garnish for the soup) and flat-leaf parsley. Simmer together another 20 to 30 minutes and serve, garnished with more cooked bacon crumbles.
For something a little different, try using Yukon Gold potatoes. Their buttery yellow color will produce a very pretty soup with a slightly different flavor. Of course, if you have leftover ham, substitute that for the bacon if you like but you will need to saute the leek/onion mixture in a bit of butter. A sprinkling of cheese or chopped chives also makes a nice garnish, and if you like, chopped green chiles are also an ingredient to consider.

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