We’re on day two of something called a “wintry mix” which I suspect if I lived in one of those places where one was forced to wear shorts and sunglasses in January, eating food plucked recently from the ground (pea tendrils, anyone?) I’d imagine constituted a fun day of mixed winter activities, like snowfall fights followed by ice skating and then, if you’re not too tuckered out, some hot cocoa before you head home. Alas, a “wintry mix” is the precise reason my only current goal in life is to flee to someplace tropic and sandy.
And make soup. Except, me and soup have been on unstable terms this year. I know its the “right” thing to eat this time of year but my relationship with soup has been near-irreparably damaged by too many bowls of vegetables boiled to death in an oversalted broth, soups assaulted with so much cream that whatever healthy things in there cannot be tasted, and in what I imagine had to have been some sort of practical joke, a soup I ordered from from a cafe a few weeks ago that tasted, smelled and sloshed about like freezer-bitten spinach pureed in water. (It cost $6.95.)
So I was almost done with soup when I starting thinking about baked potatoes and how it’s been too long since I had a great one and how awesome it would be to make a soup that embodied everything you liked about baked potatoes — including, should you dare, cheddar, sour cream, bacon bits and chives — but in a bowl. And I became obsessed, thought about nothing else until I could bring home a pile of Russets and got to work.
The result might be the first soup I have been excited about in a very long time. It’s thick and intensely baked potato-ish and although it is a lot of fun to make a piled-on spud of your bowl, the soup can stand on its own, neither immensely unhealthy or lacking in flavor without toppings. Plus it’s hearty, warming enough to make me forget all about the fact that I remembered — as my foot was halfway descended in a bottomless pit of street slush this morning — that I wasn’t wearing waterproof boots. Warming enough that you might decide you need one less layer. Warming enough that the prospect of spring being more than two months off is ever-so-slightly more bearable. Not quite pea tendrils, but it’ll do.
One year ago: Black Bean Soup with Toasted Cumin Seed Crema, Cranberry Syrup (on an Intensely Almond Cake)
Two years ago: Light Wheat Bread and Clementine Cake
Three years ago: Pickled Carrot Sticks and Chicken Caesar Salad
Four years ago: Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes, Leek and Mushroom Quiche
Baked Potato Soup
Adapted generously from Cook’s Illustrated Garlic Potato Soup
I know what you’re thinking: “But where’s the baked potato?” (A few folks have already asked.) The title is a riff on the taste and toppings of baked potatoes. I did, of course, initially consider starting with baked potatoes but rejected this approach because of time constraints (an extra hour for potato-baking, 15 minutes for cooling before you could touch them), textural concerns (I wanted some chunks to remain, and knew that a baked potato dropped in a soup would fall apart) and flavor worries (that a potato cooked outside the broth wouldn’t pick up as much garlicky/leek fragrance). That said, should you want to adhere closer to the baked potato theme, or have leftover baked potatoes that you’d like to use, I’d add them in chunks exactly when you’d add the raw ones, but only cook it for 10 minutes, not 15 to 20, before finishing the soup.
Skins or no skins? Your choice. I went without skins because I wanted a light-colored soup but leaving the skins on would amp up the baked potato flavor, for sure.
More changes I made to the original recipe: I used less garlic (and found a way for you to use the whole head, not 2/3 of it and a few extra cloves), more leeks, less broth, sour cream instead of heavy cream, all Russets instead of half Red Bliss potatoes and all sorts of toppings I doubt CI would approve of. Their loss. This soup is the perfect January antidote.
1 head garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium leeks, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed, and chopped small
5 to 6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (I used 5 cups; add the extra cup after pureeing if you’d like a thinner soup)
2 bay leaves
2 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/3 cup sour cream
Ground black pepper
Minced fresh chives or scallions
A drizzle of melted (or melted and browned) butter
Rinse the head of garlic to remove any outside grit or dirt. Cut the top third off the head and peel any loose papery skins off the bottom two-thirds. Instead of discarding the top third (CI’s suggestion), pop out a bunch (or all) of the garlic clove tips and mince them. If you’re Deb, breathe a sigh of relief that you have wasted nothing.
In a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add leeks and cook them until soft (but not brown), about 5 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook another minute. Add the larger part of the garlic head (whole, not chopped), broth, bay leaves and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat and simmer until garlic is very tender when pierced with tip of knife, 30 to 40 minutes. Add potatoes and continue to simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Discard bay leaves. Remove garlic heads. Optional: If you’d like an extra garlic boost to the soup, using tongs or paper towels, squeeze garlic head at root end until cloves slip out of their skins. Using a fork, mash the garlic cloves to smooth paste and add it back to the soup. [I felt our soup was garlicky enough without this. It had a great suggestion of garlic without overpowering the baked potato flavor.]
Add sour cream to soup and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Adjust seasonings, adding more salt and pepper to taste. Using immersion blender, process soup until chunky-creamy, leaving lots of potato texture intact. (Alternatively, transfer a portion of the potatoes and broth to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth.) Serve with whatever makes you happy on top, or nothing at all.