Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Good woman soup

My new bed is clad in lovely, old, familiar linens, and I am tucked up, drinking chichi Mariage Freres tea out of my favourite mug. Boxes have been unpacked, a larder stocked, and soup made.

The most pleasurable aspect of the last few days has undoubtedly been food shopping. My new neighbourhood, on the border of the 11th and 12th arrondisments, not only has a lively open-air market six days a week, but also boasts several dozen small shops and permanent stalls. And H
here, at least, I’m learning quickly: to always take my jute shopping bag when heading out on errands (plastic sacs are invariably tiny and weak); how to order certain foods (though I’m currently limited to weights of 100 grams, a half-kilo or a kilo); and which of the wine shops in the immediate vicinity has a more interesting stock.

I am unquestionably spoiled when it comes to vegetables, cheese, bread and wine. My kitchen, however, has been less easy to love. On the whole, my apartment is far nicer than I had remembered: bright, airy, with piles of charm and enough genuine virtues—an enormous, spanking-new bed, masses of closets, proper wood floors—to outweigh such startling decorating decisions as a shiny black and gold coffee table and a red velvet couch. In the case of the kitchen, however, my recent reencounter merely confirmed earlier frustrations: storage limited to high, open shelves, a new microwave but a very old (convection) oven, a cramped layout, and a plethora of ugly, cheap kitchenware. The narrow L-shape did make it a perfect space for one. But this physical reminder that I would be cooking only for myself merely prompted me to focus more intently on the kitchen’s flaws.

Nonetheless, with the odious and unnecessary banished, Le Creusets hung conveniently on hooks and shelves loaded with food staples, it was difficult to be entirely negative. The light was shining in through the window, and there was a place on the ledge that could hold herb plants. There was even room to line up all of my cookbooks, something which I had been unable to do for a long time. The meals I would cook here might lack in companionship, but it no longer seemed inconceivable that this space, my first solo kitchen, could be a happy one.

I celebrated this newfound resolve—and the successful completion of my move—by making soup. Although there was no wine (the corkscrew not being due to arrive until the weekend), I had bought cheese and bread along with that morning’s vegetables. The soup was simple and satisfying, if a bit too salty, a homespun blend of leeks, potatoes, carrot, and parsley.

I vaguely recalled that these types of improvised recipes were sometimes known in French as potage bonne femme. Although I later learned that the correct translation for this was housewife’s soup, that evening, good woman soup seemed like just the right thing to have on the menu.

I later found this recipe, adopting different proportions, using butter in place of olive oil and adding a bit of cream, in Lindsey Bareham's Celebration of Soup.

Potage Bonne Femme

Serves 4
1 1/2 oz butter
2 large leeks, finely sliced
3 carrots, diced
1 lb potatoes, peeled, diced and rinsed
2 pts water (I used Marigold stock)
2 fl oz single cream
1 tbsp parsley

Melt the butter and gently saute the leeks and carrots. When thoroughly coated with butter, add the potatoes, the water and a generous pinch of salt. Simmer gently for 30 minutes. Puree and pass through a fine sieve. Adjust the seasoning, serve with a swirl of cream and a flourish of chopped parsley or chervil.

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