Leek & Potato Soup

Christmas is over and everyone is gearing up for the New Year.  Well, most everyone.  Our holiday here didn’t quite go as planned as both of my kids were are sick.  No Christmas Eve appetizer dinner.  No festive brunch and Christmas Day Feast.  Just macaroni and cheese and soup I had frozen.  We lounged around, used up four boxes of Kleenex, and distributed medicine to keep the fevers down.  They have been sick a full week and my husband and I are continually praying that they pull out of this soon.  In the meantime, we eat soup.
Leek & Potato SoupThis happens to be one of my husbands most favorite soups.  I just love the fact that it goes together pretty quick and makes a perfectly sized batch; not too big, not too small.  It is made with leeks, which if you have never cooked with them before have a really mild onion flavor to them.  They look like really big scallions (green onions) but are actually totally different.  This is a leek:
LeekNot very intimidating is it?!  To give you a perspective on scale, it is about 14 inches long and as big around as a stick of butter.  When they are cooked down, they become wonderfully sweet.  You can find leeks at just about any local market.  Our little hometown store even carries them here.  The only tricky thing about leeks is cleaning them so please read the note at the end of the recipe or your soup will end up extra crunchy from all the sand instead of crunchy from the bacon!  This soup is light, and warm and creamy.  Add a hunk of crusty bread and it makes a great lunch or light supper.
Leek & Potato SoupLeek & Potato Soup

I prefer to use low sodium bacon, but use what you like.  Just make sure it is nice and smokey.  This is not the recipe for maple or brown sugar bacon!

1/2 lb bacon, diced
3 large leeks, sliced and cleaned, white and pale green parts only (see Note)
2 large white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 (49 oz) can good quality chicken broth or about 6 cups
1 T fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 c cream, optional

In a medium sized pot, fry the bacon until crispy.  Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels and set aside.  Add the leeks to the bacon fat and saute the leeks over medium low heat until soft (3-4 minutes), but do not let them brown.  When leeks are wilted, add the potatoes, chicken broth and fresh thyme.  Bring the soup to a simmer and let it bubble very gently until the potatoes are completely cooked through.  Using an immersion blender, process the soup until smooth.  Alternatively, pour the soup (in batches if necessary) into a blender and blend until smooth, returning to the soup pot when you are done.  BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN BLENDING HOT FOODS!  DO SMALL AMOUNTS AT A TIME!  At this point, go ahead and add the cream if you want and bring the whole thing up to temp.  Taste to see of it needs salt or pepper.  You may not need to add any if your bacon was salty or peppery enough.  Sprinkle with crispy bacon and enjoy!

Note #1:  Leeks are grown in very sandy soil and that sand gets trapped between the layers.  To clean a leek, trim off the darkest green ends and the root end and discard.  Cut the leek in half lengthwise down the middle, and then crosswise into little half moons.  In a bowl filled with cold water, swoosh the leeks around in the water, breaking the layers apart as you go.  The sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl and the leeks will float.  When they are clean, grab the leeks out in handfuls, shaking off excess water and use as directed.

Note #2:  There are several ways to make this recipe even healthier.  After sauteing the bacon, pour off the fat and wipe out the pan.  Use a bit of olive oil to saute the leeks in instead.  Also, omit the cream and the soup will be just and thick and creamy.  Use a low fat, low sodium chicken broth or even vegetable broth for the liquid.