Recipe for smashed potato and leek soup
For a few days last week, the weather here in New England turned New England-ish, evoking the Augusts I spent at summer camp when I was young. In the mountains of New Hampshire, we piled on the heavy blankets at night, and tromped off to breakfast in woolen pea coats (the fashion at that time) and shorts, our knees knocking from the cold. During the day, everything warmed up, but by dinner time the air had a hint of a chill, and the cook often made soup or some sort of mystery stew for dinner. This smashed potato and leek soup tastes (and looks) far better than camp fare, though its rustic style would have fit right in at the mess hall. Leave your immersion blender in the cupboard; unlike most leek-and-potato soups, this one isn't pureed. Quick to cook, the soup will keep for days in the refrigerator.
Smashed potato and leek soup
Serves 4; can be doubled.
2 large leeks
1 lb red-skinned new potatoes, washed but not peeled
2 strips bacon
2 tsp olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, plus a few extra for garnish
4 cups homemade chicken stock (or low-sodium store-bought broth)
Kosher salt, if needed (taste first; if you're using store-bought broth, you won't need salt)
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup milk (I use skim)
Trim the stem end and green parts of the leeks, and remove the outermost layer. Dice the remaining white part of the leeks into 1/4-inch pieces, and place in a large bowl. Fill the bowl with cool water, and agitate with your hand, swishing the leeks around to loosen the dirt. Then, set the bowl aside, and do not disturb it. The dirt will settle to the bottom, and the clean diced leeks will float on top.
Dice the potatoes into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces, and set aside.
In a small (3- or 4-quart) Dutch oven or heavy nonreactive saucepan with a lid, cook the bacon over low heat until semi-crisp but not brittle. Drain on paper towels, and set aside.
To the bacon fat in the pot, add the olive oil. Use a strainer to gently skim the leeks out of the water (don't stir up the water, as the dirt has settled on the bottom), and add them to the pot. Stir and cook for 2 minutes, until the leeks are translucent but not brown. Add the potatoes and thyme, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Then, add the stock. Turn heat to high, and bring the soup to a boil; then, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 25 minutes.
Taste, and add salt (if needed) and black pepper. With a wooden spoon, smash most of the potatoes against the side of the pot, leaving at least one-fourth of the potatoes in chunks. Stir in the milk, and crumble in 1-1/2 strips of bacon. Stir to combine, and taste again. Adjust the seasoning if needed.
Serve hot, garnishing each individual bowl with a bit of crumbled bacon and some thyme leaves.