"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Never Mind: Potato and Leek Soup I Almost Didn’t Make

by Julie Tilsner on February 28, 2007

in Soup is Easy, Soups

Potatosoup_1I’m not one for labels, but damn, am I ADD. I’m probably even ADHD, because that has an extra letter, and so most certainly means extra unfocused and extra spacey. It’s no laughing matter, this Attention Deficit Disorder. They put kids on medication for it all the time now.

It’s a good thing they hadn’t discovered this particular affliction yet when I was growing up or I would never have made it through graduate school.

Because I am a space cadet. In my own little world most of the time. I am amazed I get through every day without forgetting something important like waking up or releasing my parking brake. I’m also amazed I have to ability to eventually finish work assignments, because more often than not, though I do enjoy getting paid, I tend to lose all interest in the topic at hand very quickly, which makes it hard to muster any enthusiasm at all, much less a clever kicker.

But see? I digress. There was this hearty garlic and potato soup recipe in Cook’s (my new favorite cooking magazine. A little homespun, true, but they are pedantic about their recipes and I need pedantry when attempting to cook.) At the time I saw the recipe it was cold and rainy and the thought of hearty garlic and potato soup made me sigh with desire. I decided I would make some.

But I needed a few special provisions first. I needed several heads of garlic.  And two different kinds of potatoes. I needed some heavy cream. Finally, I needed a leek.

These ingredients took several weeks to procure. I got busy with other things and remember, it’s hard for me to focus. While I slowly collected them I read and re-read the recipe. I needed two kinds of potatoes, for example, because one kind broke down easily and provided starch while the other held up better in simmering chicken stock. I had to read the sidebar on how preparing garlic three different ways would lend itself to the perfect garlic taste, and how this taste would blend perfectly with the two different kinds of potatoes. Did I mention that Cook’s is pedantic?

Finally, I was ready for a trial run. But wither my leek? I asked Luke, my ex, if he could find me a leek when he went to the Farmer’s market on Friday.

He arrived that day to pick up the kids and handed me a pair of long, green leeks. I snatched them from his hand, held them above my head and pronounced, in my finest Elizabethan accent, “If you can mock a leek, you can eat a leek!”

“What’s that from?”


“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is!”

“No it’s not.”

For the record, Yes, it is. Hah!

I like any vegetable you can quote Shakespeare by. Leeks are fun. It’s a silly word. And apparently, according to Luke, the leek is the national vegetable of Wales. I aim to do more with leeks in the future.

Still, it was another week before I could get around to being ready to attempt my hearty garlic and potato soup, and I only did so because I was afraid my leeks would go over in the crisper.

Here is the recipe (Cook’s Illustrated, March/April ’07, page 12. Written by Rebecca Hays):

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium leek, white and light green parts halved lengthwise, washed and chopped small (about 1 cup)
3 medium garlic cloves, minced, plus TWO whole heads of garlic, with the outer papery bits pulled off and the top third cut off.
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth, plus one cup to thin soup if necessary (huh?)
2 bay leaves
table salt to taste
1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes (about 4 1/2 cups)
1 pound Red Bliss potatoes (unpeeled), cut into 1/2 inch cubes (abut 3 cups)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
1/4 minced fresh chives
garlic chips (recipe below)

Now, this might seem simple to some of you readers, but it’s fairly complicated for me. And we all know how I don’t tend to pay attention to details. Basically this was a disaster waiting to happen.

First challenge: How to cut potatoes into cubes. At my age I’m too embarrassed to ask anybody how this is supposed to be done. So I make my own approximation of 1/2 inch…shapes.

Again I digress…

Melt butter in Dutch oven over medium heat. When foaming subsides, add leeks and cook until soft (but do not brown), about 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in minced garlic and cook until fragrant. Add garlic heads, broth, bay leaves and 3/4 teaspoon salt, partially cover and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and continue to simmer, partially covered, until potatoes are tender (between 15-20 minutes).

Discard bay leaves. Remove garlic heads and squeeze their garlic mush into a bowl, using tongs or whatever implement you can find. Use a fork to mash the mush.

Stir cream, thyme and half of the mashed garlic into the soup; heat soup until hot again. Taste soup, then add the remaining garlic paste if desired. Using an immersion blender (??WHA? luckily I have a regular blender), process soup until creamy, with some potato chunks remaining. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Sprinkle with chives and add garlic chips (see below)

Garlic chips – 3 tablespoons olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, sliced thin lengthwise.
Heat the oil, fry the garlic. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

You might think, gentle reader, that your humble narrator stumbled and impaled herself on any one of several sharp challenges this recipe presented. But the fact of the matter is, the soup came out pretty well. But it took well over an hour, and, by the time I doled it out into a bowl to taste, I had lost all interest.

The result? It tasted like garlicky potato soup. Nothing more, nothing less. I had a few spoonfuls, but felt nothing. No ahhing, no soul-satisfying mmm-ing. In fact, it cried out for something, but I couldn’t figure out what. And there was no one there to ask. No Tony. No Audrey. The kids certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

If you eat soup by yourself does it satisfy anyone?

Then it was bedtime and I poured it all out into my big green Tupperware container and shoved it into the refrigerator to think about on the morrow. Only the morrow came and went and I couldn’t be bothered. A week went by and out of guilt I opened the Tupperware to heat up a bowl for lunch and was so affronted by the heavy garlic smell that I threw the whole thing out.

I wonder what Ritalin brownies would taste like?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Denzylle March 1, 2007 at 6:13 am

It’s a shame you didn’t wait one more day to post that, as today is St David’s Day, (as referred to in the excerpt from the Shakespeare play you linked). On Wales’ national day, it’s traditional to wear a daffodil or even a leek.


LH March 1, 2007 at 4:17 pm

Well, I may not have an encyclopaedian command of Shakespeare, but I do know my leeks. Leeks are good. Too bad about the soup, but try the leeks with potatoes and onions in a cheese sauce. An old favourite.


AT March 1, 2007 at 9:24 am

Sounds like a pedantic, mind-numbing experience. (In that King Henry the 5th play, I found the turkey-cocks more rousing than the leeks).


Susan March 1, 2007 at 5:18 pm

I once drove the kids to school with the parking brake on.


Keith October 31, 2011 at 12:00 am

Just read this … for some reason it made me immeasurably sad … if you ever need to give a soup a good home, for Pete’s sake, please contact me.


Amy October 31, 2011 at 9:36 am

Oh, Julie, you do make me smile… I once drove home w/ the parking brake on, wondering what that incessant warning bell was in my car, not putting two and two together until I was half-way home. Doh! // As for your soup — yes, soup is much more satisfying when shared! Wished we lived closer — I’d have loved to sample some. (btw, tho — my brother makes THE BEST potato & leek soup ever. Will send you recipe. It’s to die for, and not nearly as complicated as the one you described. Creamy goodness! 🙂


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