Julia Child's Recipe for Leek-Potato Soup: Ground Hog Optional


I don’t go to many movies these days. Since becoming a mom eight years ago, date nights, when my husband and I have them, are mostly reserved for adult conversation, adult dinner and adult beverages at one of our favorite Twin Cities restaurants. Foodies that we are, sitting silently in a dark theater munching bland popcorn doesn’t usually do it for us. This summer, though, we did manage to see one film, Julie and Julia , probably because the subject was food.

Here’s my four-word movie review for Julie and Julia: Skip Julie. Savor Julia. Poor Amy Adams, who plays Julie. My daughters and I loved her in Enchanted, but her most talented co-star in that film was an animated chipmunk. In Julie and Julia, she competes for attention with, quite simply, the greatest actress ever to utter a word of dialogue. Meryl Streep magnificently embodies the legend, the icon, the first-ever celebrity chef who still reigns supreme – Julia Child.

This was my first real introduction to Julia, the person. I was too young to remember her PBS series “The French Chef,” which aired from 1963 to 1976, and had no interest in cooking until my children were born. The first memory I have of her, regretfully, is Dan Aykroyd’s legendary “Saturday Night Live” sketch that portrayed her accidentally cutting her hand (and bleeding profusely) while de-boning a chicken:

One of my favorite soup recipes comes from Julia’s seventh book, The Way to Cook, published in 1989 – 28 years after her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, brought French cuisine into middle-class American kitchens. Read how the introduction to The Way to Cook still resonates today: “More and more of us have less time to shop and cook, and we are becoming more health conscious and more aware of what is in our food.” Her goal for The Way to Cook was to reach “a new generation of cooks who have not grown up in the old traditions, yet who need a basic knowledge of good food so that they may enjoy fresh, healthy home cooking.”

That would be me. The food traditions I grew up with could neither be categorized as old nor new; they were simply bizarre. My mother was a big user of canned vegetables, canned sauces, and canned fruit; our family’s favorite dessert was strawberry Jello-O congealed around floating fruit cocktail. My dad was a bit more adventurous, to a fault; I blame it on his Greek blood. He special-ordered frozen squid from our neighborhood A&P and stained our kitchen counters purple with the ink. He picked wild grape leaves growing in our backyard and made dolmades with them. And once, at a family dinner that included his three sisters and their husbands, he served a meat roast that could not be identified by anyone in attendance. We knew it wasn’t beef. Or pork. Or lamb. No, it was something a bit more… hmmm, what? “Gamey” was the word we came up with. Was it venison? No, the bones were too small. Rabbit? Too big. Turns out we were eating (are you sitting down?) ground hog – AKA woodchuck, whistle pig, Punxsutawney Phil – which, the day before, had been picked off by a .22 rifle after my dad found it eating beets in our garden. (The fact that it was free-range and beet-fed did little to impress our guests, who left shortly after dinner looking pale and agitated.)

But I digress. Where were we? Oh, yes. Discussing more recognizable and more palatable food a la Julia; or more specifically, her amazing leek-potato soup recipe.

This soup couldn’t be easier to make. There are four ingredients: leeks, potatoes, water and salt. But don’t be fooled by the simplicity. This is one great soup – delicious, satisfying, and perfect for warming you up from the inside out. Plus, it’s the right dish for this time of year, utilizing vegetables that are seasonal, local and plentiful.

As Julia wrote, you can substitute onions for the leeks, “but you won’t get that wonderful pervading and special flavor that is the trademark of the leek.” I agree. But you do have to be more careful cleaning a leek; dirt gets trapped between all the layers, so a simple rinsing or dousing won’t do the job. Here are leek-washing instructions from the Madame herself:

“Trim the root ends of the leeks, being careful to keep the leaves attached. Remove any wilted leaves, and cut off the tops to leave the leeks 6 – 7 inches long. Slit each lengthwise down to where the white begins; give the leek a quarter turn and slit again. Wash very thoroughly under cold running water, spreading each leaf apart to rinse off all dirt and grit. If the leeks are fat, cut them in half lengthwise.”

Julia Child’s Leek and Potato Soup

For about 2 ½ quarts, serving 6 or 8

4 cups sliced leeks – the white part and a bit of the tender green
4 cups diced potatoes – old or baking potatoes recommended
6 or 7 cups of water
1½ to 2 teaspoons of salt, to taste
Optional: ½ cup of more sour cream, heavy cream or crème fraiche

In a heavy-bottomed, three-quart saucepan, bring the leeks, potatoes and water to a boil, uncovered. Salt lightly, cover partially, and simmer 20 or 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Taste and correct seasoning.

Serving au Naturel – Ladle out the soup and top each serving with a dollop of sour cream, if you wish.

Pureed Leek and Potato Soup – Puree the soup through a vegetable mill or in a blender or food processor. Serve with optional cream.

Cream of Leek and Potato Soup – Use a cup less liquid when simmering the soup. After pureeing, whisk 2/3 cup or more of sour cream, heavy cream or crème fraiche into the soup, simmering a moment to blend.

And, as Julia always said at the close of her show…

“That’s all for today… Bon appetit!”