When I was a little girl in Michigan, we had potato soup at least once a week. It was inexpensive, warming and ready in relatively little time. I can remember taking my mother’s thick homemade bread, slathering it with warm sweet butter and dunking it into the hot soup. A subtle heat wave made its way down to my center. I was not one of those kids who liked playing in the snow. I didn’t get it. Snow was cold, wet and brought out a bullying tendency in other kids. Somehow, though, the promise of hot potato soup made suffering in the snow worth it.
At the time, I had no idea that it qualified as French cuisine, nor would I have suspected something so seemingly humble could be considered a classic. My mother said her potato soup was based on the Swedish potato soup her own grandmother who hailed from Sweden. Classic Swedish potato soup is essentially the same thing, but sometimes features sour cream and tends to be served a bit more chunky than the puree called for in this version.
Julia Child had this to say about it: “In this busy, can-opener world, a homemade soup often seems like a new taste sensation. The old French standby, leek and potato soup, tastes so good you cannot believe it is nothing but vegetables, water and salt simmered together. It is also versatile: add watercress and you have a potage au cresson, or chill it, lace it with cream and you have vichyssoise.”
This recipe first appeared in The Kitchen Counter Cooking School as I used it as a teaching lesson in the project at the heart of that book. Recipes for it date back to at least the early 1800s, according to a chef at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. In Julie & Julia, it’s the first dish that Julie Powell made from Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Potage Parmentier (Leek & Potato Soup)
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 cups of leeks thinly sliced (about 3 medium leeks)
- 1 lb. potatoes peeled and diced
- 2 quarts water chicken or vegetable stock
- Bay leaf and ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ¼ cup whipping cream or 2 tablespoons softened butter
- Pinch of cayenne
- 3 tablespoons minced parsley thyme or chives
- Prepare the leeks by discarding the root and the tough green upper stalks. Chop, then rinse in water to remove any residual dirt. In a four-quart or larger saucepan, sauté the leeks butter until softened and translucent, about five minutes. Add the potatoes, bay leaf, thyme and water or stock. Simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
- Remove from heat. Discard the bay leaf. Break down the vegetables with a fork or a potato masher, or puree in a blender. Return to heat. Add the whipping cream of butter. Taste. Add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it, and a bit of cayenne if desired. Garnish with chopped parsley or herbs, and add a couple cranks of black peppe
This recipe was updated in 2015.