From a grower’s perspective, leeks don’t make much sense. Depending on who you ask, they’re either scallions for suckers with too much time on their hands, or a poor man’s onion. Unlike their allium cousin the onion, they don’t form a bulb beneath the earth, but rather grow concentric and uninterrupted vertically progressive leaves, like a scallion. But leeks take twice as long as scallions to grow, and to achieve that tender white base, you’ve got to mound soil in hills around each plant. And yet, in spite of being kind of a pain to cultivate, leeks have been celebrated since ancient times, when the emperor Nero consumed them in outlandish quantities, convinced that they would improve his singing voice.
To this day, the Welsh hail leeks as a patriotic emblem of sorts. The legend that gave rise to the leek’s symbolic fame has been obscured by time and probably a fair amount of whiskey, but no matter the version, it starts with an unlikely win over the Saxons in the seventh century battle of Heathfield. Story goes, Saint David saved the Welshmen’s hides by advising that they eat – and by some accounts, wear – leeks into battle. Whether this tactic worked because, as some say, it allowed the battle-weary Welshmen to distinguish themselves from the enemy or wether the Saxons were just so repelled by the pungent odor that they were simply thrown off their game, no one will ever know for sure.
While I wouldn’t recommend wearing leeks to help you get a seat on that morning rush hour subway, I do love eating them, and there’s no more perfect way to enjoy them than in a bowl of potato leek soup.
Potato Leek Soup
2-3 large leeks
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 lb boiling potatoes (the shiny-skinned varieties all work well for boiling)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Optional: ¼ cup heavy cream, truffle oil
* * *
First, trim off the tough dark green tops of the leeks. Wash well, making sure to get all the grit in between the leek’s leaves, and dice.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté, turning heat down a touch if the leeks begin to burn at all.
While the leeks are sautéing, scrub, peel and dice your potatoes. Add a cup and a half of water, the cup of stock, and your potatoes, simmering till soft, about 20 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
For a smooth soup, puree in batches in a food processor; for a chunkier soup, use an immersion blender for a few seconds and stir. For a creamier soup, add a ¼ cup of heavy cream or crème fraiche. For a richer flavor, add a drizzle of truffle oil.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with chopped chives. Drink with a full-bodied white like a white burgundy.