Living a seasonal life is relative to where you live. After a young life of living in tropical and aseasonal Hawaii and later along the moderated Mediterranean California coast, I fumbled into the oceanic influenced four seasons of Southwest France. Here at Camont, my days are very much dictated by the seasonal flow from a mild and wet winter to a wetter and warmer spring, through the hot and sunny summer months and circling into an extended autumn that gradually cools down and back to winter again. Eh Voila, les Quatre Saisons!
My four French seasons are most reflected around the house and in my kitchen. Although I remain delighted with Spring and the festive social Summer months, it is now in the middle of Winter that I feel the slow turning circle the most. I hang heavy brocade curtains over the drafty doors, stack the split wood under a dry cover, and gather kindling for the morning fires. Extra duvets are piled on the foot of the beds; the laying hens are let out of their cozy coop after my first cup of coffee; and I make sure to feed the flitting songbirds and paired tourterelles that flock to the seeds and fat balls that hang from the fruit trees. This preoccupation about feeding extends into my kitchen, of course.
The holidays are over, at last. Everyone, at least the media, is concerned about starting afresh, or watching their weight and getting off to a healthy new year. I’m no different but I miss the large and orchestrated meals of festive summer and the grand school lunches we prepare during cooking courses. I actually cook less in the winter months, but with more restraint. Like this very lean leek soup I made yesterday. The idea of something put on to simmer all day can be a mythic goal. What about a simple soup that only needs to cook for 30 minutes are so? Something without a rich stock, or the the heavy cream and butter of the holidays?
Every season is Soup Season in Southwest France. When I first came to France, every meal I ate in a rural French home featured soup- breakfast, lunch or supper. Today, French families still gather to souper in the evenings or at grand-mère’s house for Sunday lunch. Passing a tureen around the table or one person standing to ladle the soup plates-those flat rimmed bowls-is a familial way to eat together. This Simple and Lean Leek Soup will start off your Winter cooking season like a savoury tonic.
Let’s start at the market. No French Winter market is complete without bunches of beautifully blanched leeks with long white stems and deep green leaves. The classics—Leeks Gratin, Poireaux Vinaigrette, and even the fancy sounding Vichyssoise, are nothing more than a simple tribute to this sweet allium. One of the first soups I learned to make in France, it is easy to cook just a couple servings, at least enough for two and a bowl leftover. Someone told me they find leeks sliced, washed and frozen in their supermarket. So, whichever way you go, fresh or frozen, think of this simple soup as beginning of a meal or the simple accompaniment for an omelette. For my Southern hemisphere friends, just chill this soup, add a dollop of crème fraîche, and some chopped chives when you serve it. eh voila!
Simple & Lean Leek Soup
500 grams or one pound of sliced, washed leeks
2 tablespoon oil- olive, canola, sunflower safflower
1 liter or quart water
1-2 bay leaves
salt to taste
walnut oil to garnish
hot sauce- optional
sliced pickled peppers to garnish
Put the oil in a 2-4 litre/quart saucepan.
After slicing and washing the leeks, add the leeks to the pan and turn on the heat.
Stir the leeks and oil until they are well coated and then add the water.
Add the bay leaves and let simmer 30 minutes until the leeks are very tender.
Remove the bay leaves and using a stick blender or blender puree the soup. (Oops, I forgot to do this yesterday and there were dark green strings and chips in the soup!)
Add enough salt to taste, but don’t over power the sweet leeks with too much salt.
Garnish the soup with some chopped up guindillas or pickled peppers, a drizzle of walnut or other nut oil, and splash of your favorite hot sauce and a cracking of fresh black pepper.
I avoid using a strong stock as the sweet leeks are enough to flavor the broth.