So naturally when I flew back to New York that May, I had Mom's copy of the book stashed in my bag.
The thing you learn with Potage Parmentier is that "simple" is not exactly the same as "easy." It had never occurred to me that there was a difference until Eric and I sat down on our couch the night of my appointment at the gynecologist's, three months after stealing my mother's forty-year-old cookbook, and took our first slurps of Julia Child's potato soup.
Certainly I had made easier dinners. Unwrapping a cellophane swathed hunk of London broil and tossing it under the broiler was one method that came immediately to mind. Ordering pizza and getting drunk on Stoli gimlets while waiting for it to arrive, that was another favorite. Potage Parmentier didn't even hold a candle, in the easy department.
First you peel a couple of potatoes and slice them up. Slice some leeks, rinse them a couple of times to get rid of the grit - leeks are muddy little suckers. Throw these two ingredients in a pot with some water and some salt. Simmer it for forty-five minutes or so, then either "mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork" or pass them through a food mill. I didn't have a food mill, and I wasn't about to mash up vegetables with a fork. What I had was a potato ricer.
Well, technically it was Eric's potato ricer. Before we were married, years ago, before Atkins hit, mashed potatoes used to be Eric's specialty. For a while, before we learned the value of Brooklyn storage space, we'd had this tradition where I'd get him arcane kitchen gadgets, the not-very-funny joke being that he didn't actually cook at all, except for the mashed potatoes. The ricer is the only survivor from this period. It was his Christmas present the year we were in the railroad apartment on Eleventh between Seventh and Eighth - this was before we got priced out of Park Slope entirely. I'd sewn stockings for the both of us out of felt - his is red with white trim, mine white with red - from a pattern in the Martha Stewart Living holiday issue that year. We still have them, even though I can't sew and they're totally kattywhompus: the stitching uneven, the decorative cuffs bunched and crooked. They're also way too small for things like ricers. I stuffed it in anyway. Hanging on the mantel of the nonfunctional fireplace in the bedroom, the stocking looked like Santa had brought Eric a Luger. I've never been much good at stocking stuffers.
Once the leeks and potatoes have simmered for an hour or so, you mash them up with a fork or a food mill or a potato ricer. All three of these options are far more of a pain in the neck than the Cuisinart - one of which space-munching behemoths we scored when we got married - but Julia Child allows as how a Cuisinart will turn soup into "something un-French and monotonous." Any suggestion that uses the construction "un-French" is up for debate, but if you make Potage Parmentier, you will see her point. If you use the ricer, the soup will have bits- green bits and white bits and yellow bits - instead of being utterly smooth. After you've mushed it up, just stir in a couple of hefty chunks of butter, and you're done. JC says sprinkle with parsley but you don't have to. It looks pretty enough as it is, and it smells glorious, which is funny when you think about it. There's not a thing in it but leeks, potatoes, butter, water, pepper, and salt.
One interesting thing to meditate on while you're making this soup is potatoes. There's something about peeling a potato. Not to say that it's fun, exactly. But there's something about scraping off the skin, and rinsing off the dirt, and chopping it into cubes before immersing the cubes in cold water because they'll turn pink if you let them sit out in the air. Something about knowing exactly what you're doing, and why. Potatoes have been potatoes for a long, long time, and people have treated them in just this way, toward the end of making just such a soup. There is clarity in the act of peeling a potato, a winnowing down to one sure, true way. And even if afterward you do push it through some gadget you got at Crate and Barrel, the peeling is still a part of what you do, the first thing.
Copyright © 2005 by Julie Powell
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