Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If Audrey Hepburn were a Potato

Pull up a chair, pour yourself a glass of pinot.  You'll never believe what happened!

Last night, around 4-ish or so, when I usually start to get dinner ready, my kitchen had a visitation.  Yeah, a ghost.  I know, weird, huh?  But soooo cool.   Did I know who it was?  I don't want to brag. But whew! Ok, ok, it was, and you're going to flip, Julia herself.  Really.  THE Julia.  Madame Child!  And she was smiling.  Totally amazing.

Anyway, Julia's appearance distracted me from the disconcerting 15 lb bird sitting on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator.   It kinda look like it's sleeping.  I'm not exactly sure how it got there.  The cats are skulking around as if they're privy to some conspiracy.  I distinctly recall putting a simple, rather cute and petite turkey roast into my shopping cart.  This is what happens when one shops for groceries with DH.

We had the discussion. I had read an article in Town and Country about heirloom turkeys.  DH couldn't see the virtue of paying $150 for a turkey that "Tastes just like the turkey the pilgrims ate."  I thought, how nifty would it be to have a historically accurate meal...it would go along with the cats in their little pilgrim hats.

Unfortunately, it was too late to order one, lest we double the price with FedEx rates. So, to assuage my disappointment, I rationalized that most of the turkeys being offered were huge.  Seems Plymouth Rock was inhabited by Turkeys the size of pterodactyls. No wonder the Native Americans just had corn to trade.  They were scared to death to even consider roasting one of these babies.  More than likely, these behemoth birds exceeded the size of their ovens too.

Our apartment is tiny.  Our kitchen...sigh, is so small, we and the cats practically have to take turns to eat. The stove?  I owe all of my culinary prowess to that stove.  If I can cook a meal on this thing, I can cook anything anywhere!  It has a stubborn mind of it's own.  Four electric burners that work in a new permutations every day.  It's exciting!  Today, its burners #2 and #4 that won't light.  Yesterday, it was burners #1 and #3.  And when you call the landlord to have it serviced, each burner suddenly gives their ruby glow of mechanical perfection  To intensify the challenge of cooking, it is small. The oven is almost cute, that is, until you're trying to configure an arrangement of roasting pans so that the food actually cooks.  I really think that our landlord to save money, had an Easy Bake oven installed.  Barbie and Ken could easily move in and have killer dinner parties.  At least, they could open the refrigerator AND stand next to the oven door at the same time.
So, the prospect of roasting a turkey the size of a Volkswagen beetle, even though it was historically accurate, was forsaken for the cause of spatial logistics. We agreed that a small turkey breast made more sense on many levels, least of which was the prospect of dining on turkey hash next May.

I agreed, a turkey roast it will be. So I am perplexed by what is taking up real estate in our fridge.  I am refusing to think about this until Thanksgiving morning.  

So, to calm my nerves, I figured, hey let's cook something French!

Last night, I made Potage Parmentier. This is your basic potato and leek soup. No biggie, right?  Oooh, Wait, I beg to differ.  Think liquid velvet enveloping all of your senses.  If you are a literary foodie, you know that Julia Child's recipe for Potage Parmentier is what launched Julie Powel's Julie-Julia-Year-Cooking-Dangerously. This dish is absolutely magical. It's the perfect entree (pardon the pun) to French food.

Most people think of French food the same way they think about college chemistry experiments, only done while wearing an Oscar la Renta gown and peau de soie pumps: an incomprensable recipe with too many steps, esoteric ingredients that result in a pretentious entree fit for the elite.  How this image came to be, baffles me.

Real French cooking reminded me of my grandma's Oklahoma simple home cooking.  Things like fried pork chops with milk gravy made with half and half and fried potatoes, or corn creamed into a rich soup made with bacon drippings and cream, or biscuits covered with strawberries mashed with tons of sugar.  Every time, she came to visit, we grew double chins.

A few years ago, I spent a month in Paris.  I was amazed to find that what my grandma served could trace its roots back to the same simplicity that defined French cooking. Sure, the French are known for their feats of culinary excess, but the real French dinner table has dishes that have cousins throughout traditional American cuisine.  Bifsteck et Pommes frites -- steak and fried potatoes--is the unspoken national dish of France...toss in a few sliced raw tomatoes and voila, dinner is served.  Or, the favorite after school snack: thinly sliced radishes, a little salt, served on buttered bread.  How simple, and down right plain is that?  My mom used to make tomato sandwiches with bread, butter and sliced tomatoes. 

Isn't it weird, but food prepared simply is often the best.  And most cuisines, that is, when you go beyond food served to tourists, is frequently simple in its preparation and taste.  Potage Parmentier is one of those dishes whose history belies it simplicity.

At one time, the French as well as the rest of Europe considered the potato food for hogs, but toxic to humans.   Antoine Auguste Parmentier, with his French sensibilities--after all, what are the French known for?  Perfume and lingerie--they find pretty like no one else can-- took this homely tuber, a lowly farm maid out of the pig pen, peeled away her muddy exterior added a bit of butter, a few leeks, and transformed her into Audrey Hepburn.   Simple, sweet and absolutely stunning.

The recipe is amazingly simple. We've all made mashed potatoes. Right?  Consider mashed potatoes and Potage Parmentier to be different destinations on the same road to potato heaven.  Start at the tuber, turn right at the mashing point and you have your basic, but wonderful side dish...go a bit farther, turn left, past the French farmhouse, gorgeous vineyards, and the grove of chestnut trees, and there you have it, a pot of soup like few others. 

Here's what I did:

I peeled and roughly chopped 5 large, basic brown russet potatoes--these are the best for this soup as you want a starchy potato for this soup.

Put the potatoes into a bowl and cover with cold water to prevent them from darkening.

Take 6 leeks--they were sold in bunches of 3 at the farmers market last week--so, hey, 2 bunches of leeks.

Never cooked leeks?  Consider the leek as the gifted child of the onion and garlic. It has the best qualities of both...mild, yet complex.  But how to prepare it?   Easy, here's the scoop on leeks:  this is one vegetable that you cut before you wash...and wash you must--they are full of sand--gritty soup tends to anger your guests.

1.  Cut the the tough dark green leaves an inch or two above the white part of the stalk--you can use these for stock if you are so inclined.
2.  Chop and remove the root end.
3.  Slice the remaining stalk into rings as thin as you like, for this soup, mine were roughly
an inch thick.
4.  Fill a large bowl with cold water and toss in the rings separating as a many of the layers as you can.  You'll be amazed how many you have!
5.  Swish them around to make the sand fall to the bottom of the bowl
6.  Remove the rings to a colander drain.

Meanwhile back at the soup pot, melt 3 Tbl of butter and a splash of olive oil (this is the coolest trick: the olive oil prevents the butter from burning. Pretty nifty, huh?).

Add the leek rings and cook until soft, about 12-15 minutes on medium high, stir occasionally to prevent scorching.

Add the potatoes and stir to coat.

Add 4 cups (one box of chicken broth) and about 4 cups of water to cover the potatoes.  Julia Child's recipe calls for using just water, I know...but the broth is water--just better, right?

Add about a Tbl of salt...depends on how salty your broth is.

Cook at a medium simmer for about an hour...occasionally add water if the volume drops below the potatoes.

When the potatoes are very soft...you can whip out the immersion blender and puree the soup or, like me, just use your masher.  Just be sure you mash and mash beyond mashing. You want the soup to be as smooth as you can get it.

Right before serving, stir in 1/2 cup of cream.

Serve with crusty bread.  You have to try it, this is amazing how good it tastes!  I promise.


Tammy Howard said...

I lived in a very small apartment once. I, too, had a cute stove. Sounds like you're making good use of it!

Mrs. Chun LeRoy said...

My feedburner isn't working, so I moved my blog to: http://mrscstinyapartment.wordpress.com/

You need to resubscribe! Sorry.

Happy Thanksgiving,