Potato Leek Soup
INGREDIENTS: 1 large or 2 small leeks, about 1 lb.
2 bay leaves
20 black peppercorns
4 springs fresh thyme
2 Tbsp. butter (I used Smart Balance buttery spread)
2 strips uncooked bacon, chopped (consider substituting 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used Barefoot Chardonnay)
5 cups chicken stock
1 to 1-1/4 lbs. russet potatoes, chopped small (6 medium potatoes or 4-1/4 cups)
1-1/2 tsp. salt (preferably sea salt -- it has minerals)
3/4 tsp. white pepper (I used black)
1/2 to 3/4 cup creme fraiche or heavy cream (I used 1/3 cup heavy cream)
2 Tbsp. snipped chives (I used cooked crumbled bacon)
DIRECTIONS: Trim the green portions of the leek and, using 2 of the largest and longest leaves, make a bouquet garni by folding the 2 leaves around the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme. Tie into a package-shaped bundle with kitchen twine and set aside. (Alternately, tie 2 leek leaves, bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme together in a piece of cheesecloth.)
My Note: This is easier to do than it sounds. I just laid the bay leaves, peppercorns and thyme on top of the green leek leaves and folded the leaves over them and around, making a cylindracal package tied with kitchen twine. It amazingly all stayed together; there were no peppercorns in the soup, and none of the thyme leaves fell out either. Photo below shows the package at the end of the cooking time, all neat and together.
In a large soup pot (I used a 5-quart stockpot) over medium heat, melt the butter and add the bacon. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is very soft and has rendered most of its fat. Add the chopped leeks and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes more. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the reserved bouquet garni, chicken stock, potatoes, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are falling apart and the soup is very flavorful. (My note: Cook the soup uncovered, and it took longer than 30 minutes; probably more like an hour.
Remove the bouquet garni and, working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender; or pureee the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender. (My note: I left some potatoes in the pot to mash coarsely and put the rest of the soup into my blender in one batch.) Stir in the creme fraiche or cream and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve immediately with some snipped chives sprinkled over the top of each bowl of soup. (or some cooked crumbled bacon, as I did.) Yield: about 1-1/2 quarts without the cream