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Monday, April 20, 2009

Elizabeth David's Potato Tomato Soup

I mentioned this soup in a response to my blogbuddy Chance's post on growing potatoes. I love potatoes. Generally, I think nothing beats mashed potatoes and that most other concoctions are not worth the time and effort. Sometimes when I am blue I will eat a giant pot of mashed potatoes all by myself. One way to get on my good side is to offer to perform a task I loathe: peeling potatoes.

Now that I have established my potato creds, I will present one of the few exceptions to my "nothing is better than mashed" credo: Elizabeth David's potato tomato soup. This is from French Provincial Cooking. I have an old bedraggled paperback, whose decrepit cover was replaced by Mr. FS with some red cardboard. I will type this right out of my copy, enjoying David's prose and general aesthetic. David, as will be clear, does not present recipes in the manner of American cookbooks.

The white part of two leeks, 1/2 lb. tomatoes, 3/4 lb. potatoes, 1 1/2 oz. butter, a little cream, chervil or parsley.

Melt the butter in a heavy saucepan; before it has bubbled put in the finely sliced leeks; let them just soften in the butter. Half the success of this soup depends upon this first operation. If the butter burns instead of just melting or the leeks brown the flavour will be spoilt.

Add the roughly chopped tomatoes; again let them cook until they start to give out their juice. Add the peeled and diced potato, a seasoning of salt, and two lumps of sugar. Cover with 1 1/4 pints of water. After the soup comes to the boil let it simmer steadily but not too fast for 25 minutes. Put it through the food mill, twice if necessary. Return the puree to the rinsed-out saucepan. When it is hot, add about 4 oz. cream.
. . . .

For all its simplicity and cheapness this is a lovely soup, in which you taste butter, cream, and each vegetable, and personally I think it would be a mistake to add anything to it in the way of individual fantasies

You can see the bits I left out (oops! like adding chopped chervil or parsley at the end) on Googlebooks. Can you get a sense of her perfect and austere palate?

I don't follow this to the letter. I seldom have cream, so I add milk and some butter at the end. I also puree with my stick blender right in the pot. The soup is a beautiful salmon color. David cautions against making this too thick. Note also the water (rather than stock) base, typical of French home cooking. Elsewhere in the book, David mentions that leeks are really essential. I agree.

I hope you try this Chance! Anyone have any fabulous and simple soup recipes? Please share.


Funny about Money said...

Yum! That sounds wonderful!

Duchesse said...

Thank you, I'm going to make! The only thing better than mashed, to me is french fried- I'm powerless. Mrs David had quite a "spicy" life! And was briefly a vendeuse for Worth, the couture house in Paris, before falling into food writing.

Frugal Scholar said...

@Funny--Try it! It will not disappoint.

@Duchesse--I will try to find her biography. I know she acted for a while, and was a confidante of Norman Douglas. I love reading her essays and recipes. Sheer bliss.

French fried is great, but a lot of work--I'm getting tired just thinking about it.

Chance said...

I do most of my new recipe testing on the weekends, so this is slated for Saturday. Just because I am a total geek, I checked and *all* of her papers are in the Radcliffe Library in Cambridge MA. Including unpublished recipes, background research, maybe some of those spicy letters, personal correspondence etc. Radcliffe has a terrific historic cookbook library...hmmm, I feel some research coming on. I'll let you know how the soup turns out -- thanks!