Home Style French Soups

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Pureed potato leek (and kale) soup with fresh herb garnish

Garden-Based Cool Season Soups

Recent oral surgery has me disgruntledly following a complicated and fussy regimen that disallows such delights as anything chewable and even restricts hot tea (!!!) for the first week or so. As I sullenly sip tepid soup (no texture allowed) and eat yet another serving of plain yogurt (to counter the sweeping effects of antibiotics), I’m entertaining (torturing) myself my re-reading favorite cookbooks. A few comments and questions about last week’s post on simple food led me back to Richard Olney’s classic cookbook, Simple French Food. Though he never experienced the public fame of James Beard or Julia Childs, Olney was highly regarded amongst professional chefs and food writers in the 60s and 70s. He’s credited with being among the influential few who re-shaped American cookery by popularizing French cuisine in a day when prepared and packaged food was becoming increasingly available and popular.

A decent writer, he’s wry, opinionated and sometimes amusing, and anyone who enjoys reading books about life in small Provencal villages will definitely appreciate the glimpses of his chosen home town of Sollies-Toucas, a beautiful (of course) place in the Cote d’Azur region. Olney lived there from the early 1950s until his death in 1999, and spent his time painting (not very well), cooking (very well), and writing about food (very well indeed) as well as his unmemorable memoirs. Like most of his contemporaries, Olney’s cookbook features a lot of meat, but he has time for vegetables as well, especially appreciating the “meaty” qualities of beans(!). He offers recipes for a number of vegetable purees, among which I most enjoyed the brothy ones. French water-based soups always have the clean, fresh taste of vegetables, rather than heavier, often greasy soups made with chicken or meat stock. I always prefer lighter, vegetable-based soups with self-broths that highlight the garden-fresh flavors.

Perfectly Simple Potato Leek Soup

A few years back, I wrote about an extremely simple version of French potato leek soup found in Olney’s cookbook. Where most potato leek soup recipes rely heavily on butter and cream or milk, Olney reports that such a recipe would very much surprise French cooks whose home style versions rarely include dairy ingredients. He does finish his version of this classic with a bit of butter in each bowl, but chopped herbs make an equally delicious garnish and also keep the soup vegan for those who prefer it. The recipe I posted, offered here again with a little update, is too simple for many people, who can’t resist gussying it up with a bit of this or that. It definitely does gussy up nicely, and almost anything from smoked salmon to kale and fresh herbs will complement it. However, there’s a reason that the plain version below is served nightly in many working class French homes and it’s not simply economy. Made with excellent ingredients, this soup is both satisfyingly delicious and even mildly addictive. Gussy if you must, but do t least try a bowlful, enjoying a mellowing glass of wine while it cooks. Bon appetite!

Home Style French Soup

I make this soup with avocado oil, which lends this soup a rich, buttery flavor, but a fruity olive oil works is more traditional. The version seen above included kale, and was pureed because my current condition requires it, but pureeing is a good way to make any soup seem creamier even without added dairy ingredients.

French Potato Leek Soup

1+ teaspoon sea salt
3 fat leeks, thinly sliced (white and pale green parts only)
3-4 medium potatoes, quartered and sliced
1-2 tablespoons avocado oil or olive oil or butter
few grinds pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh herbs (optional)

Combine 2 quarts of water with the salt and bring to a brisk boil. Add leeks and potatoes, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are quite tender but still mostly intact (30-40 minutes). Add a splash of oil or some butter, adjust seasoning (salt, really) and serve, with a bit of freshly ground pepper and fresh herbs for garnish. Serves 4.

A Different French Onion Soup

Here’s another autumnal recipe that’s lovely in this simple vegan form and can be gussied very pleasantly as well. If you don’t want to use the apple and green onion garnish, try grated Gruyere or Pecorino cheese instead (it will taste more like the usual French onion soups). This lighter version always reminds me of a magical time when Italian fellow students and I helped with the vendange at an ancient farmstead near Aix-en-Provence. The grapes were rose or purple or pale green, silvery with bloom, and we dumped our full buckets into big woven baskets slung over the sides of a velvety grey donkey wearing a floppy hat trimmed with flowers.

French Kale And Onion Soup

1/4 cup fruity olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
1+ teaspoon sea salt
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons stemmed thyme
6 cups chopped kale
1/2 cup dry white OR red wine
6 cups boiling water
4 slices of crusty bread, toasted
1/2 cup finely chopped crisp apple
2 green onions, finely sliced

Put oil in a soup pan over medium low heat, add onions and salt and cook until soft and golden (20-30 minutes). Increase heat and cook, stirring often, until onions are lightly caramelized (10-15 minutes). Add garlic, thyme and kale, cover pan and cook until kale is dark green and soft (5-8 minutes), stirring occasionally. Add wine, increase heat to medium high and cook until wine is reduced by half. Add boiling water, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Break up a slice of toast in each of four bowls, fill with soup, garnish with cheese (if using) and serve. Serves 4.

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5 Responses to Home Style French Soups

  1. Diane Hooper says:

    Hi Ann,
    Hope you are feeling better. Oral surgery is NEVER any fun!
    Thanks for the soup recipes. Love this time of the year and making delicious soups is one of the reasons.
    Take car,

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Thanks, Diane! I love soup but tepid soup is just punitive. I guess the bright side is that after a period of restrictions, everything “normal” tastes amazing again!

  2. alfredo rossi says:

    Hello to all. My name is Alfredo and I was one of those students who attended the Harvest in France with Ann. The place in the countryside near Aix En Provence is called “PONT SAINT ESPRIT”. I still have the wonderful memory of everything, the colors of the countryside and the sunsets. A special greeting to Anna.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      Ciao, Alfredo! So sweet to hear from you again. Didn’t we have a wonderful time at that amazing farm?

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      So good to hear from you, Alfredo. We did have some wonderful experiences, didn’t we. Great memories and lessons that continue to shape my life (some from you too!).

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