My good friend Melissa was organizing her cookbooks a few weeks ago, and came across her mother's copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", volumes 1 and 2. These are original editions from 1963, and Melissa was kind enough to let me borrow them. I was so thrilled! I read cookbooks like they are novels. Especially, with the movie "Julie and Julia" being released in a few weeks, I have had a renewed interest in French cooking.
I came home that afternoon, and began leafing through volume one. The beginning of the book contains lots of good basic cooking information for a beginner cook....a chapter on basic culinary terminology, a chapter on measurements and temperature conversions, a basic cutting skills illustration, and some very basic wine information. Then we get into the good stuff, the recipe chapters.....soups, sauces, eggs, fish, poultry, etc.
Any cookbook from 1963 is going to have parts of it that seem terribly outdated in 2009. For example, when cooking one particular seafood dish, the recipe calls for pike. If pike is not available, some suitable substitutes include silver hake, green or ocean cod, conger or sea eel. Huh? Also, there are 14 pages of recipes using sweetbreads, brains and kidneys. Okaay... Plus, there are entire chapters devoted to aspics, molded meat mousses (don't even ask!), pates and terrines. I find it interesting to think that people actually prepared these recipes at one time (maybe they still do!).
After much debate on what recipe I should try first, I decided to try recipe #1.....Potage Parmentier...Leek and Potato Soup. It is literally, the first recipe of the book. Mainly because I had 6 huge leeks in my fridge, and I needed something to do with them before I ended up throwing them away. Also, because it is one of the few simple recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I have prepared Julia Child's recipes before, for a Gourmet Dinner group I was in. Our theme was "Recipes by Julia Child". I was shocked at how time consuming the recipes were, not to mention how much cream and butter was in each dish. But the final results were delicious! I believe I made a Scalloped Potato dish and a Chocolate Tart (this was years ago, I cannot remember my exact recipes). I was cooking for 2 straight days!!!
This recipe calls for 5 ingredients...leeks, potatoes, salt, butter, and water. If you don't have leeks, you could use yellow onions, but then it would be onion and potato soup. I think leeks are much more French!
Julia Child's Potage Parmentier (aka Leek and Potato Soup)
1 # peeled potatoes, sliced or diced (4-5 medium potatoes)
1 # thinly sliced leeks (3-4 large leeks)
2 quarts (8 cups) of water
kosher salt to taste
4 T. softened butter or 4-6 T. whipping cream
After slicing the leeks, soak them in a large bowl of water for a few minutes to remove the dirt and grit. Once you have thoroughly cleaned the leeks, place them in a large pot with the potatoes, water and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 45 - 50 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender.
Julia instructions are to mash the vegetables with a fork,
or to run the vegetables through a food mill. She
specifically says to NOT run the soup through a
blender, stating that the consistency would be
too similar to baby food. I do not have a food mill,
so I had to improvise.
I began by using my potato masher. I thought this would be closest to mashing the vegetables with a fork. It worked OK, but the resulting soup was too chunky for what I was going for.
I then pulled out my immersion blender. That worked perfectly. I think Julia would have approved.
Now, taste the soup for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. At this point, you can set aside the soup until you are ready to serve it. When ready to serve, reheat to a simmer. Remove from heat and stir in the cream or butter (I used butter), small spoonfuls at a time.
Pour into a soup tureen or soup bowls. Optional: sprinkle the top with minced parsley or chives.
Next time I will use boxed chicken broth in place of the water, to add some extra flavor to the soup. Even though I prepared this soup on a warm summer day, it really hit the spot. Of course, it will be perfect on a cold, winter day, but it is a surprisingly refreshing summer soup. Some variations that Julia suggests in the book are:
Watercress Soup - add in 1 c. packed watercress leaves and tender stems to the above recipe
Vichyssoise - same technique, but use 3c. sliced potatoes, 3 c. sliced white of leek, 1 1/2 c. chicken broth and 1/2c - 1 c. whipping cream; serve chilled
Cold Watercress Soup - self explanatory
Add any combination of the following vegetables to the leeks and potatoes:
sliced or diced carrots or turnips
peeled, seeded, chopped tomatoes
half cooked dried beans, peas or lentils