Vichyssoise

The crisp winter air, the invigorating scent of pine, the beauty of sunlight glinting off freshly-fallen snow—I am OVER IT. Done. I’m sick of bundling up every time I want to go farther than the front door, or making tea just so I have a mug to warm my hands on. Though I never thought I’d say it, I’m even sick of drowning my sorrows in comfort food.

Yet even just 48 hours away from the first (official) day of spring, winter refuses to relent. (It’s my fault; I knew I shouldn’t have murdered all those groundhogs.) The only way to fight this horrible reality, I suppose, is by soothing ourselves with sustenance that straddles the line between sturdy, cold-weather fare and delicate springtime meal.

You might not expect a soup made of potatoes and half-and-half to fulfill that particular criteria—but stay with me. 

This is, technically, no ordinary potato-leek soup. It’s vichyssoise,  a cold soup concocted in 1917 by the French-born chef Louis Diat. He told the New Yorker in 1950 that he’d dreamed up the dish during a hot summer at the Ritz Carlton. Diat was on the lookout for chilly but delicious things to serve his patrons at the hotel’s swanky roof garden; he landed on a potato soup that he cooled down by adding milk, then named his creation after the spa town of Vichy (which would later become infamous as the seat of government in Vichy France). Apparently, FDR’s mother was a big fan.

It’s easy to see why. Vichyssoise manages to be both rich and refreshing, thanks to its silky texture and leek-y taste, which can’t help but evoke spring—even when leeks are basically the only quasi-in-season vegetable to be found for miles. Nonnie’s version ups the ante by adding onions as well, though the final product doesn’t punch you in the face with onion taste. (In fact, I think all the dairy actually mutes that flavor a little too much.)

A soup, of course, can’t change the weather—but tucking into a bowl of this can make you forget about a thermometer that refuses to climb past 40 degrees, at least until after you’re done scraping up the dregs.

Vichyssoise

4 leeks, white part only [Eh, go ahead and use the light green part as well—you’re not too good for that]
3 onions, sliced
1/3 cup butter [A standard stick of butter equals half a cup, which makes this an exceptionally annoying measurement. It translates to five tablespoons plus one teaspoon; next time, I’d just do five tablespoons period, because they’re easier to measure]
Salt
White pepper
4 cups chicken broth
3 potatoes, sliced [time for some fun with measurements! An average russet potato—the sort I’m assuming Nonnie is calling for here—is, according to the Internet, around six ounces. That means Nonnie wants you to use a little more than a pound of potatoes here. I used the equivalent weight in Yukon Golds, since they’re what I had on hand. Also, Nonnie didn’t ask us to peel them, so I didn’t bother—less waste, and potato skin is often the tastiest part. Plus, there’s enough dairy involved to keep the soup a nice light color, potato skins or no]
2 cups milk [I used skim, for similar reasons. Normally, I wouldn’t, since skim milk can act weird when heated—but in a cold soup, it doesn’t matter]
1 cup half and half

Slice onions and leeks thin. In large saucepan, melt butter; add onions and leeks; cover, and sweat for 20 minutes or until tender. [It’ll seem like an obscene amount of leeks and onions, but they really cook down—and after all, you want to be able to taste them, right?] Add chicken broth and sliced potatoes, salt [more than you think you’ll need] and pepper [just a butt-ton as well]. Simmer (covered) until potatoes are soft.

Puree mixture in blender or food processor. Add milk and cream; correct seasoning; mix well, cover and chill for several hours.

The Verdict: The recipe’s pretty good as written—though I’d use a lot less dairy next time, maybe decreasing the amount by as much as a cup or two, because the milk and half-and-half have a dulling effect on the overall dish. That would mean ending up with a much thicker soup, but you could always adjust the texture with water or more broth instead—or just leave it as-is, because the full original recipe also yields so much damn soup that we were eating it for the better part of a week and a half.

Anything served cold will also require more seasoning than anything served hot, which meant it took a lot of salt and pepper to give me the flavor I wanted here; I also ended up throwing in some thyme, which added another nice dimension to the soup.

Although… you know what? Though it was originally designed to be a rejuvenating summer nosh, I think Nonnie’s vichyssoise actually tastes better… hot. I know, I know; heating up this soup is tantamount to sacrilege. But given the circumstances—I think there’s somehow a third nor’easter headed to New York this coming week; pray for Mojo—can you blame me?

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