Friday, February 23, 2007

Potato and Onion Soup

Yesterday was, by all accounts, a spectacular day. D got some very good news, but he had to stay late at work -- which gave me ample time to whip up some celebration food for both of us. Unfortunately, I was too damn lazy to go out to the store, so I was stuck with whatever we had in the house. It wasn't much, and we had just made a mixup meal, so I wasn't really interested in throwing a bunch of stuff together randomly and seeing how it turned out. I wanted to make something hearty, exciting, and comforting. What I really wanted to do was whip up some onion tarts like this beauty from Orangette... or these cute babies from Simply Recipes... but I didn't have the time, patience, or energy to spend on the dough, which is quite an effort and would be much better with a food processor. Which I do not own. Anyhow... no tarts, yesterday. But I did have a lot of onions, a bunch of gorgeous potatoes, and a giant container of milk that I didn't know what we were planning on doing with.
Then it hit me: potato onion soup. God. I used to eat this all the time, growing up. Sometimes with leeks, sometimes with celery and garlic... the memories of this comforting, simple meal came back in a flood. And I decided to make the soup, all over again, sans any real recipe. I knew that it would be slightly thin: the milk was skim, and I have a recollection of using whole milk and heavy cream, but I figured that the potato starch would help thicken up the soup. And a handful of flour would work some magic on the consistency. I was right: the soup was thin, but not alarmingly so. It didn't really diminish the flavor or quality of the soup -- it was still quite hearty and filling.
D loved it, as did I. We nearly ate the whole pot for dinner last night. True, I didn't make a gigantic amount of it, but it was more than enough for two people. And with all the milk and potatoes, it's a stick-to-your-ribs kind of soup, so a small amount does go a long way.

Potato and Onion Soup
Begin by slowly melting 2 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy saucepan -- as usual, I used my dutch oven, as I always do when making soup. Dice 2 large onions and add to the melted butter. Stir to coat the onions in butter and, with the heat on low, cover the pot for about 10 to 15 minutes to allow the onions to steam. While the onions are cooking, chop about 2-1/2 pounds of baby potatoes. Any kind of potato will do, but I was fortunate enough to have a sack of rainbow colored baby beauties. I have no idea what they're actually called, but I got them at our new favorite grocery store. It's just a Jewel/Osco, but -- unlike most of the groceries in downtown Chicago -- it has an outdoor parking lot, spacious aisles (lord how I hate being pushed in the grocery store; you don't even know) and all sorts of fresh, bright, squeezable produce. Andreas Viestad, my favorite Norwegian chef (although a bit too bourgeois, in my opinion... but his cuteness makes up for that) had a glorious episode centered on potatoes, and he mentioned that if you ever see any small odd-shaped "nubbly" potatoes to snatch them up immediately. He was right: these potatoes rocked -- it was a healthy mixture of mostly yukon gold and small red potatoes, smattered with a few baby purple potatoes for good measure. God, am I ever glad I didn't use them all in the soup. I want to make potato salad with the rest of the lot. I chopped these potatoes into odd-sized bites: since this is a five-ingredient recipe mostly consisting of potatoes I really wanted them to look great. That part was really fun, because I got to get a little creative with my knife and make crazy slices. I kept the skins on, mostly for color, although they could be taken off if you're so inclined.
I made sure to stir the onions a few times while steaming them so they wouldn't burn, but that wasn't really a concern since the heat was so low. After rinsing the potatoes, I dried them quickly with a paper towel and threw them into the pot with the onions. Another pat of butter was added at this point -- if I'm using skim milk, I might as well use enough butter to make it rich. I also added some salt to the vegetables in order to make the onions sweat a little, as well as a hearty dose of freshly ground black pepper. Most people would use white pepper in a white soup, but I don't own any -- I don't like the flavor of it as much as I like the flavor of black pepper. At this point, I also added about 1 tablespoon of flour, which would act as a thickener for the soup when the milk was added. After steaming the potatoes in with the onions for about ten minutes or so, I added four cups of skim milk. Stirring frequently, I brought the soup to a slow boil and allowed it to simmer until the potatoes were soft and gorgeous. I left the top on the pot, for the most part, in order to help the soup cook faster -- at this point, I was starving, so I was willing to do anything in my power to make it finish fast. After about 30 to 45 minutes of the slow simmer, the soup was finished. It was so, so, so, good. And for five ingredients and about an hour, total, cooking time? It was well worth the minimal effort.

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