Soup is magic – really. Gather together a few simple ingredients, some chopped potatoes (you don’t even have to peel them), half an onion if you’ve got it, a handful of parsley or whatever savory herbs remain in your fall garden and a few cups of water, and let the potion simmer happily in your stainless steel cauldron for awhile. Add a pour of cream, a dash of salt, a coarse grind of pungent black pepper and – abracadabra – you have soup! Filling, delicious, healthful, economical and easy to prepare, soup is the perfect medium for celebrating the flavors of fall vegetables. Squash, apples, beets, potatoes, leeks, broccoli, parsnips and even those huge end-of-summer zucchinis that you don’t know what to do with are all worthy of a starring role in your autumn soup pot.
So when it’s time to put the cover on the grill, when after-school activities leave you little time to even think about, much less prepare, a hardy homemade meal, search your kitchen for an apple, a carrot, a turnip or two, a sprinkle of curry powder , and make a little magic for dinner.
Leek and Potato Soup
1 bunch of leeks
4 medium-sized potatoes (any type)
4 cups store-bought chicken or vegetable broth
½ tablespoon olive oil
½ tablespoon butter
1 cup cream (substitute half and half or whole milk for fewer calories)
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
Slice and clean the leeks, discarding the tough, darker green ends. Clean leeks easily by placing the sliced pieces in a large bowl of cold water. Swish them around in the water for a few seconds then let the leeks sit for two or three minutes. The dirt and sand from the leeks will fall to the bottom of the bowl. Scoop the clean leeks off the top of the water and place them on a clean towel to dry. Scrub the outside of the potatoes thoroughly or peel them if you prefer. Chop potatoes into approximately 1-inch cubes. Heat the butter and olive oil in a soup pot and add the leeks and potatoes to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sauté the vegetables until the leeks are translucent, but don’t brown them. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until the potatoes are fork tender. Remove the pot from the heat and mash the potatoes lightly with a hand-masher. You can make the soup as smooth or chunky as you wish but leaving some chunks of potato creates a hardy texture. Stir in the cream and taste for seasoning, add more salt and pepper if needed. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with shredded cheese and a sprinkle of dried parsley for color. Serve as a main dish accompanied with a colorful platter of raw vegetables or with grilled ham and tomato sandwiches.
Serves 4 as an entrée, 6 or 8 as a side or meal starter.
Cooking time, approximately 45 minutes – 15 minutes to prepare and 30 minutes to cook and serve.
Autumn Soup Tips
Like many soup recipes, the Leek and Potato recipe included here is a “blank canvas” recipe. Several seasonal ingredients can be added or substituted according to your family’s taste or what is available in your pantry. Use onions instead of leeks; add ham for more protein or broccoli if you’re trying to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. During apple season, add a peeled and chopped cooking apple, such as a Gravenstein, to your potato soup for a sweet and savory product. Transform simple potato soup into an Oktoberfest feast by throwing a sliced bratwurst or two into the pot and substituting 2 cups of cooking stock with the same amount of dark beer. Skip the cream and cheese if you are cooking light and add a dash of chili pepper to warm you up on cool fall evenings. Or, create a completely different flavor profile by substituting another starchy autumn vegetable for the potatoes, such as butternut squash. Most soup recipes rely on basic techniques and as long as those techniques are followed you can be adventurous with your choice of ingredients and still create something delicious.
Soup is the perfect “cook ahead” food and many recipes actually taste better the next day because the flavors have had time to thoroughly mingle with one another. If a specific night of the week is always hectic in your home, cook up a pot of soup along with your regular meal on an evening when there’s more time then serve it on your busy night. Because most soup ingredients are inexpensive, especially when in season, it makes sense to cook two batches of autumn vegetable soup at once and put one in the freezer. Be sure to use a good-quality freezer bag and label it with the name of the item and the date it was made.