Autumn has deepened. It all but rattles our bones. What wind! At night, we hear it roaring from a great distance before it hurtles against the house. Our sleep is fitful. Some of us have the sniffles. And, worst of all, we've lost a hen, one of the originals, our Dottie. She got her name from speckles on her fluffy chick forehead, and then she grew into a beauty with a full breast of scalloped white. She was famous for nuzzling up to the cat when he took a sun soak. This past year, she's been a ragged mess of tattered feathers; the other chickens pecked at her. Blossom and Fern gave her extra free-ranging privileges, but she didn't range so much as nestle down outside my office window. I'd hear her out there clucking contentedly to herself.
We miss Dottie. She was just a chicken. But she was part of what made our home seem like home.
So it's high season for comfort food.
That means Leek-and-Potato Soup. The one we make is light and simple. I learned it from Patricia Wells's book that explores the cuisine of Joel Robuchon: Simply French. Before making this soup, when I thought of a potato and Robuchon at the same time, I went into a swoon about his silken potato puree, which I once had the privilege of eating in Paris. That puree is sheer artistry. It is ballet on a fork. It could hang in the Louvre.
You accuse me of hyperbole? Really? Okay. Maybe. But I'm trying to get at the difference between the puree, which would be out of place in our kitchen and the soup.... Ah, the soup... The soup is at its best when I walk out into the wind and wrench a few leeks out of the soil and then root around for some nice potatoes. This soup is right at home in a bubbling pot on the stove—even as we're trying to wash the leek roots and all the clinging soil out of the sink. This soup is earthy. It fits the way we live.
We suspect it'll fit the way you live too, whatever way that is. It's very accommodating, this soup. It wants to please.
Peel, quarter, rinse and drain one and a half pounds of small boiling potatoes, such as Red Bliss.
Trim two leeks at the root. Split the lengthwise and sluice water down into all their little leek crannies. Rinse under cold water, then let them soak in a bowl for about five minutes—or until the grit settles to the bottom. Dry them and chop coarsely.
In a stockpot, melt two tablespoons of butter over low heat. Add the leeks and stir until tender but not browned. Add one and a half quarts of water and sea salt to taste. Add the potatoes, cover, and simmer gently for 35 minutes.
Take the pot off the heat. With an immersion mixer, process the soup until smooth. Return the soup to high heat and bring to a boil. Skim if anything icky floats to the top. Add one tablespoon of cream and stir. A few seconds later, add one tablespoon butter. Ladle into warm soup bowls and sprinkle with chervil or flat-leave parsley snipped with scissors. Season with ground pepper to taste.
That is a bowl of solace.
But the other evening we had a pizza dough rising. We happened that day to dig out a few fingerling potatoes and also some leeks that never sized up. And, well, why couldn't we put leek-and-potato yumminess on a crust? Maybe Leek-and-Potato Pizza would combine the goodness of the soup with another favorite...the potato gratin.
The handful of fingerling potatoes went into a pot of boiling water. When they were tender, I sliced them in half lengthwise.
We did a simple, fast leek gravy: I cooked a strip of bacon in a skillet and removed it to drain. Then I sauteed several small leeks in the bacon drippings until they were sweet and a little caramelized. Then I whisked in a spoonful of flour until it smelled toasty. Then I whisked in some milk...just enough to make a sinuous roux.
The leek gravy went onto the pizza crust first. Then the fingerlings got scattered around. Then we added some grated gruyere cheese and then bacon crumbles.
When it came out of the pizza oven, we fell upon that pizza as though it could ease all the pain in the world. And for a few minutes, it almost did.