Monday, January 6, 2014

Baked Potato Soup

Baby, it's cold outside. No joke. The high in Indianapolis for today is -10, with wind chills making it feel like -30. This Florida girl is shaking in her new knee-high snow boots at the mere thought of it.

As if I'd go out in that mess though. I have definitive plans to stay inside where I can safely enjoy the view of my backyard, warm and toasty under a blanket with a mug of hot tea and a bowl of hot soup. 

Nothing beats homemade soup on a cold winter's day. This past November my parents came to visit, and even though it wasn't that cold for us, I knew my mom would be freezing in the 50 degree autumn temps. In light of this, I made Thomas Keller's clam chowder with bacon from Ad Hoc at Home on their first night. It was absolutely delightful, but man was that a fussy recipe. Almost everything was cooked in a separate pot before being combined in the dutch oven at the end. Thank goodness I had my mom's help. It was quite the affair to put together.

As we ate the creamy chowder later that night, my mom looked up guiltily from her bowl and admitted that the potatoes and bacon were her favorite parts. I laughed and told her that they were my favorite parts of the chowder too. I mean the clams were nice and all, but every time I bit into a buttery potato or smoky bit of bacon, I practically sighed with pleasure.

Ever since then, I wanted to reinvent that delicious clam chowder into a simpler (and cheaper) baked potato soup. Granted, this "baked potato" soup does not involve any actual baked potatoes, but it embodies the spirit of a loaded baked potato so the name works for me.

When I tried to make everything in one pot, the final consistency wasn't as silky as Keller's chowder because the potatoes leaked so much starch as they cooked, giving the final soup a granular mouth feel. If you really can't stand the idea of using two pots, you can cook the potatoes in the main pot; you will still have a very respectable baked potato soup, but the final texture won't be as good as the two pot method.

To all you out there suffering with these arctic temperatures too, try to stay warm! Make yourself something hot, maybe even this soup since chances are you have all the necessary ingredients in your pantry already.

Baked Potato Soup
Very loosely inspired by Thomas Keller's Clam Chowder with Bacon

I didn't happen to have the leeks when I decided to make this yesterday, and it turned out fine without them. If you have them though, use them! They're so delicious. I also had to use a combination of Yukon Gold and Russet potatoes this time around, and the Yukon Golds are clearly superior. 

Serves: 6-8

Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

6 pieces thick cut bacon
2 cups of onions, finely diced (about 2 medium onions)
2 cups leeks, finely diced (white and light green parts only)
5 cloves garlic, minced
Kosher salt, to taste
2 pounds (about 6 cups) Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch dice
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups 2% milk (feel free to use something heavier for a richer soup)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup non-fat Greek yogurt, or sour cream
Garnishes: shredded cheddar cheese and green onions or chives

Cut bacon into lardons that measure 1 inch by 1/2 inch thick. Heat a large heavy-bottomed dutch oven or saucepan over low heat. Add bacon and allow it to gently cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the bacon is lightly crisped. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon from the pan. Set aside.

Add onions, leeks, and garlic to the pot and stir gently, in order to coat them with the bacon fat. Sprinkle with salt and, if you're in the mood, cover with a parchment lid that has a circle cut out of the center (this is what Keller instructs you to do. Sometimes I skip that part out of laziness). Cook slowly, for 30-35 minutes.

Meanwhile, as the vegetables cook, place diced potatoes and two teaspoons of salt in a large saucepan and cover with cool water. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes are just tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and spread potatoes out on a clean tray or tea towel to cool. 

Once vegetables are tender, increase heat to medium and add butter. Once butter is melted, add flour, stirring to coat the vegetables evenly. Continue to stir, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow to gently simmer for 10 minutes, or until thickened. 

Reduce heat to low and add the wine and the Greek yogurt. Gently stir in the potatoes. Adjust seasoning if needed.

Garnish with cheddar cheese, reserved bacon, and green onions.

-To make the parchment lid, if you're so inclined, fold a square of parchment paper into a thin wedge and then cut the inner tip and the outer edge, so that you have a circle the size of your pot with a hole in the middle.
-If you really must make this a one pot meal, add the potatoes after the milk and allow them to simmer until just tender. Again, the final texture will not be as silky if you do this.

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