Cooking Life Recipe

Julie and Julia, and potato leek soup

November 18, 2015

I’m several years late to this party, but I just picked up a copy of Julie and Julia by Julie Powell at a used bookstore upstate a few weeks ago. I’ve seen snippets of the movie, enough to know it looked amusing, but not enough to actually have any grasp on the story.

I’ve been reading at night after Little Miss falls asleep but before I’m relaxed enough for sleep to become a possibility, propped up in bed with my little green booklight clipped awkwardly onto the back of my paperback. I’m 116 pages in and hooked. The book is well written, witty and amusing  with lots of “hey, other people think crazy things like that?” moments for me. Having grown up in Brooklyn and Long Island, the setting is familiar and I can appreciate some of the nuances that come with knowing the location and population the narrator describes.

The story, of course, follows Julie Powell’s adventure of preparing all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blogging about it, while also detailing Julia Child’s own entry into the world of cooking. Julie describes many of the recipes she cooks, which led me to comment to my mother, “French cooking is gross.”

Now of course, I know French cooking isn’t gross. French cooking is precise, an art and a science that takes skill and effort. If nothing else, my husband watches Food Network and I unfortunately, wind up watching a lot of Chopped. Plus I saw Ratatouille, and that rat had some fantastic ideas. So I know that French cooking isn’t all gross.

But the recipes in the book are not doing it for me. The mere thought of making a sauce from beef marrow makes my stomach turn and my head swim like I’m in the midst of a terrible sinus infection. The notion of poaching eggs in red wine seems like a tragic waste of wine. Even the artichoke recipes aren’t appealing to me, and I love artichokes in all of their weird, spiny, we-make-everything-else-taste-funny glory.

There was one recipe however, that stuck with me. The very first that Julie tried, the potage parmentier, potato leek soup. When I read about it, I had no idea how offensive I would find the upcoming recipes, but I thought “this one, I need to remember.” So I dog eared the bottom corner of the page, and when I ran into the grocery store a few days later, grabbed a 5 pound bag of potatoes and a single giant leek.

The recipe, as described in the book, is ultimately simple. Wash and dice the potatoes and leeks (wash those leeks well, they tend to be sandy), then let them boil for about an hour with water, salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher, drop in a pat of butter and you’re good to go. What could be easier?

I admit, I made my soup slightly differently. I have no doubt that Julia Child knows what she’s talking about, but I learned to cook watching not a French chef but an Italian mother, so I departed from the official method a bit. About 5 potatoes and my giant leek were washed and chopped, and went into the pot with a little olive oil. I sauteed them for a few minutes just to soften them up, then added a full tea kettle of boiling water, plus a little extra. I sprinkled in some cracked black pepper and pink sea salt, put the lid on and let it boil away – I purposely left the heat a little high as I had started cooking later than was ideal.

Once everything was cooked and soft, I fished out some cooked potatoes and leeks for my toddler, then went after the pot with my silicone meat masher (cleaned very very well because I’m neurotic about meat contamination), as my potato masher had gone missing. Sure, you could use an immersion blender but then you’d lose the chunky texture that the masher allows. No matter how amazing the flavor of blended soups are, I find them utterly dull and monotonous, so I can really appreciate the thick broth and delightful chunks that result from this method.

A taste revealed a pleasant, but very simple soup. I added a sprinkle more salt and pepper, a shake of garlic powder and a pinch of dried chives, dill, basil, tarragon, chervil and white pepper (the aptly named Parisien Bonnes Herbes mix from Penzey’s, a recent favorite). Then, a generous scoop of Earth Balance non-dairy spread, as a pat of butter would spell certain death for my husband (or at least an unpleasant evening).

The soup was simple to make, so simple. The flavor was good – not overpowering, but very pleasant. The texture was a nice mix between a chunky and creamy soup, and the non-dairy butter spread gave it a lovely richness. Little Miss enjoyed her chunks of potato and leeks, and my husband was moderately impressed. I should note that this is a man who does not consider soup a meal, only an appetizer or side dish. I can make the heartiest soup ever to be created, and I’ll be rewarded by an unenthusiastic snort and perhaps a grudging compliment. So his saying it was good is worth something, but don’t forget, “soup is not a meal”.

So fine, next time I’ll make the potato leek soup with a grilled meat and a loaf of bread. After a full day including a group playdate, cleaning up from said playdate and taking a weighty business call, with a toddler who only slept 20 minutes total, I’d say I did alright. Regardless, there will be a next time. This soup was so lovely and easy to make, and honestly, I think the leftover may have benefited from sitting together overnight, as I think it was even better today!

I’ll continue reading Julie and Julia, with high hopes of finding more recipe inspiration. And if I do? I’ll let you know.

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