Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shannon and Julia

I know, I know, everybody wants to be in Julia Child's virtual company by way of cooking from Mastering the Art of & etc. But I really do make a few recipes from it from time to time. The one time I tried to cook a lot of recipes from it, I got a lot fat, so I quit.

There is one truly great and really useful recipe in the book that I use all the time: Potage Parmentier. As Julie Powell said, quoting Julia, "It is simplicity itself." That's because all you do is boil some leeks and potatoes together in water and add a little salt. Cream is optional, but very good.

Potage Parmentier, or Leek and Potato Soup, unlike a lot of the recipes in Mastering, is French farmhouse cooking, not the cooking of French restaurants. Sometimes recipes of this sort are called things like "Poulet a la Fermiere," meaning chicken cooked like a farm housewife would do it. I'm not a wife and I spend as much time outside on the farm as I do in the house, so I translate "fermiere" to mean "woman farmer." So, Potage Parmentier, being from the cuisine of the fermiere, is my kind of cooking. Je suis fermiere.

The only thing that's not simplicity itself is growing the leeks and potatoes, particularly the leeks. After years of working on it, I'm pretty good at growing potatoes. You have to start early--in March in Tennessee--and give them a surprising amount of fertilizer, in the form of compost, alfalfa pellets or the straight shots of pure nitrogen that my neighbors give them. (This summer I used urea, which is an organic form of soluble nitrogen. Diluted urine works too.) But leeks are still hard for me to grow. I think it's for several reasons: again, you have to start early, starting the little seedlings in pots in January; you have to transplant them in March; and then you have to keep them weeded all summer, before you harvest them in the fall and winter. Also, they don't like hot, dry weather. Sometimes they just rot.

Therefore I've begun taking liberties with Potage Parmentier. I use onions instead of leeks. Onions are very easy to grow, and they are ready to eat in mid-summer, way before any leeks come around, and about the same time the potatoes are ready to dig. (Around here we grow an over-wintering onion that is "simplicity itself" to grow: one plant divides into several plants over the winter, like a shallot or garlic plant, and then you separate them in spring to make more plants.) The soup is fine with cut up onions instead of leeks. And you don't have to brown them first; you can just boil them with the potatoes. That way, your soup doesn't have any fat in it at first, and you can add your favorite fat at the end. Mine is butter, but I would not turn down creme fraiche if somebody offered me some.

I also noticed that Julia says that "soupe du jour" is really just Potage Parmentier with any other vegetable that you happen to have on hand thrown in. This has worked very well for me, night after night, recently. It's the simplest supper imaginable: "simplicity itself"! You chop things up and put them in a pot with some water, boil for 15 minutes, and voila. Soup du jour. You can add a bit of pasta if you wish. Last night I made a simple pesto sauce with basil, olive oil, and salt, and garnished the soupe with that. Aha. Soupe au Pistou! Another Mastering recipe. Even my dog Molly liked it. I didn't think she liked things like pesto sauce on her food, but she gobbled it all up.

Tonight Soupe du Jour is going to be a bit Cajun, with okra and tomatoes and peppers thrown in. Maybe I will call it Soupe A La Fermiere Louisiane.

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