Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Luck of the Irish Potato Soup

I don't know how you can be considered lucky when your primary source of nourishment - potatoes, potatoes and more potatoes - disappears from the landscape and your country's population gets decimated by a giant spud famine, but the Irish have certainly proven to be a resilient lot.  Perhaps the secret lies in refreshing pints of Harp and Guinness, not to mention having a good sense of humor and pubs aplenty.

Potatoes must be in the blood.  Have you ever met an Irish person who didn't like them?  Take my mother, for instance.  Only half-Irish, Mom's veins are surely coursing with potato starch (in addition to candy, ice cream sundaes, bacon and fried eggs).  Mom is the reigning Queen of Meat and Potatoes and damn proud of it.  At age 84 and slim throughout her life, she laughs in the face of carb counters, exercise advocates and nutritionists.  Her German mother, Supreme Queen of Meat and Potatoes, lived till her mid-90s, dining on roast beef, potatoes, liver dumplings and sugar-coated apple strudel packaged in a foil tin.  Unfair as it may seem, sometimes you are just blessed with good genes.

This brings me back to Mom.  I have no doubt that she could survive on tubers alone.  Baked, mashed, fried, scalloped, roasted, you name it.  As part of her "spudelicious" indulgences, Mom enjoys the occasional bowl of potato soup.   I remember making a classic French version for her a few years ago, which she found too thin.  She came home from Publix with a can of potato soup, and she dumped it in my fussy creation.  Mom likes it thick!  The Irish can be picky about their spuds, and the less gussied up the better.

Too bad she wasn't here last night for the hearty version I threw together for dinner.

I'll have to make it for her when she comes to visit in a few weeks, or she might want to make this splendid soup herself.  In her honor, I topped it with chopped bacon and grated Cheddar cheese.  The salty, smoky bacon and the sharp bite of Cheddar add to the creamy lusciousness of the leek, onion and potato puree.   I got lucky when I monkeyed with this recipe. 

Long live Mom, meat and potatoes!

Luck of the Irish Potato Soup
(Inspired by Irish Potato Soup, St. Anthony's Family Cookbook)

2 pounds potatoes (about 7 medium russets), peeled and sliced
2 onions, sliced
3 leeks, cleaned and sliced, white and some green parts
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1 bay leaf
A few sprigs of fresh parsley
A few sprigs of fresh thyme or a 1/4 tsp of dried thyme
Salt and Pepper
2 pints (32-ounce carton) low-sodium chicken stock
1 pint whole milk
2 ounces butter
4 strips bacon, fried crisp and crumbled (for garnish)
1/2 C sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (for garnish)
1 T fresh chives, chopped, or 1 T dried chives (for garnish)

In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions and leeks and cook until tender but not brown. 

Add potatoes and carrot.  Stir in the stock and milk.   Place the thyme, parsley and bay leaf in cheese cloth and tie together; add to the pot.  Salt and pepper to taste. 

Simmer gently for about an hour, until potatoes are tender.  In batches, transfer the mixture to a food processor and process until smooth.  Alternatively, you can use an emulsion blender, or a regular blender, to puree the mixture until smooth.  Return the mixture to the pan and heat through. 

Garnish each serving with cheese, chives and bacon.

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