My Parisian kitchen is entirely typical in its diminutive proportions, with the curious addition of a full-size, American-style fridge-freezer. Given that family houses in Europe don't necessarily have one of these, I find its inclusion in my little bachelorette pad puzzling. But while I struggle to fill the fridge--leading to a perennial overpurchasing of vegetables and a vague distress that I am failing at domesticity--I am making good use of the freezer. At present, it contains the requisite bag of peas and a container of ice cream, along with portions of 3 different kinds of soup and a fresh batch of chicken stock. This cryogenic version of the Reine du Potage test kitchen encompasses one winter hold-over (a small serving of chestnut soup), an experimental carrot and dill and a basic minestrone, intended to be enhanced with dollops of homemade pesto. Paris has been blessed with a lovely spring so far, but experience has made me cautious; I'm guessing that gazpacho won't be the only soup consumed in my apartment in the coming months.
The stock is a relatively recent addition. Although I can't imagine that all French households make their own, supermarkets, butchers and even gourmet shops here don't really sell any quality alternatives. So on a rainy May weekend, I brought the big pot down from its home on the top shelf, cranked up my sorry excuse for an oven and tossed in the wings. A few hours later, browned chicken, carrot, onion and some herbs had coalesced into a limpid, golden broth.
Most of the stock was duly packaged, labeled and frozen. But I saved a bit for a spring soup highlighting the evanescent green garlic, also known as wild garlic or ramsoms. My regular market stall had a few flowering bunches, tucked away in a little pail behind the cabbages and cauliflowers. I had read enough rhapsodic prose about the wonders of spring garlic leaves to be both intrigued and a bit dubious. Was this just a trendy favourite of seasonal acolytes, or was it really something special?
The writers and chefs had exaggerated only slightly. Cooked up with leeks, potato and a knob of good butter, the garlic leaves added grassy richness--and perhaps a hint of sweetness--to an otherwise very simple soup. The pale green colour of the final product could have served as a paint swatch for one of those fancy, faux-antique decorating specialists, while the attached blossoms, though too bitter to be eaten, made my supper pretty enough for a photo shoot.
As for the chicken stock, I'd like to think it added something too. Because while I'm looking forward to using it in dishes like asparagus risotto and fresh pea and broad bean soup, another batch will be doing battle for space with more ice cream.
Green Garlic Soup
adapted from Mark Hix in The Independent
Active time: 15 minutes; Total time: 30-40 minutes
2 small leeks
heaping tbsp of good butter
handful green (wild) garlic leaves)
500g potatoes (try to find a tasty variety that isn't too waxy in texture)
enough vegetable or chicken stock to cover
1 tbsp creme fraiche for each bowl
While the butter is melting in a thick-bottomed pan, clean and chop the leeks. Add, season and cook on a gentle heat, stirring periodically, for 5-7 minutes. Peel and chop potatoes and strip garlic leaves from any thick stalks. Place the potatoes in the pan, cover them with stock and simmer for approximately 10 minutes. Add the garlic leaves and continue to cook until the potatoes are completely soft. Puree with a stick blender, cool slightly and serve with a dollop of creme fraiche.