Thursday, February 21, 2008

February 21: Baked Potato & Leek Soup with Cheddar and Bacon

Winter's back. It was 74 degrees as we were driving home from Virginia Beach last weekend. This morning, the temperature in our parking lot when we left home: 19.

Well, it's cold, so it must be soup. The grocery store across the street from my office offers three soups a day on their salad bar, something which I frequently partake in. I am a fan of soup, I have to admit. Their best is the southern-style chicken and dumplings, but a close second is their loaded baked potato soup.

Just as I was thinking about how I was hoping that they'd have potato soup today, an email from Fine Cooking popped into my inbox, and there it is, a recipe for a potato soup. I don't make it at home often; I tend to be a little lazy about keeping potatoes around the house, and while I love leeks, they aren't something I generally keep on hand.

I am making myself hungry just thinking about this soup. I may be forced to pick up some potatoes and leeks on the way home tonight. How have I gotten to a place where, instead of eating lunch on my lunch break, I write about lunch on my lunch break?

Serves 4

Baked Potato & Leek Soup With Cheddar and Bacon

2 medium russet potatoes (about 1/2 lb. each)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
2-1/2 cups sliced leeks (about 2 medium leeks; white and light green parts), rinsed well
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup sour cream
4 thick slices bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 cup grated sharp Cheddar (about 1/4 lb.)
2 Tbs. thinly sliced scallion greens or chives

Heat the oven to 375ºF. Scrub the potatoes in water, pat dry, and pierce in several places with a fork. Set them directly on an oven rack and bake until very tender when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour. Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the leeks and garlic, season with salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and 2 cups water. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until the leeks are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the bacon in a skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon bits with a slotted spoon to a saucer lined with paper towels to drain and cool.

When the potatoes are cool, cut one of them in half lengthwise. Use a large spoon to scoop the flesh in one piece from each half. Cut the flesh into 1/2-inch cubes and set aside. Coarsely chop the potato skin and the entire remaining potato and add to the pot with the leeks. Purée the contents of the pot in a blender until very smooth (you'll need to work in two batches). Return the puréed soup to a clean soup pot and reheat over medium low. Whisk together the milk and sour cream until smooth and then whisk this into the soup, along with 1/2 cup of the Cheddar. Stir in the diced potato. The soup should be fairly thick, but if it seems too thick, thin it with a little water. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve garnished with the remaining Cheddar, the bacon bits, and the scallions or chives.

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